Weekly Word Watch: avozilla, Hooyah!, and #Merky
It’s not coming home after all, football, despite an exceptional performance from England during the World Cup. But if you’re hanging up your waistcoat and working through your woes, take some comfort in words. They just keep coming.
At this point, we’ve come to accept that our principal duties at the Weekly Word Watch are to monitor the latest avocado-themed words in the culture. Last December, we noted the petite cocktail avocado that flew off the shelves of Marks & Spencer and this March, Virgin Trains’ cheeky #Avocard marketing rail services to millennials. Well, it’s back, and with a vengeance: the so-called Avozilla, a South African variety of avocado up to five times the size of its more familiar Hass counterpart.
We first met the novelty fruit – and zeitgeisty word – in 2013 when they stormed Tesco UK. Now, as we learned this week, they’re taking over Australia. Just how big are they? Big enough to warrant that blend of avocado and –zilla, a combining form from Godzilla denoting ‘monstrous’ in stature or behaviour and dating back to at the 1970s. ABC Rural, though, scaled the Avozilla in units more intuitive to the late 2010s: the amount of toast it can cover.
Weighing in at more than a kilo, a single Avozilla can cover almost 20 pieces of toast.https://t.co/BbdEfEOtJX
— ABC Rural (@ABCRural) July 10, 2018
Speaking of giants, paleontologists in Argentina announced this week they discovered a new species of dinosaur that’s providing scientists important clues to how and when they became so massive. They’ve dubbed the dino, in binomial nomenclature, Ingentia prima, literally meaning ‘first giant’.
Ingentia is based on the Latin ingens, ‘huge, enormous’ and source of the extinct adjective ingent, a fitting description for a 10-tonne beast. Prima (‘first’, think primary) captures the fact that the dinosaur lived in the Triassic over 200 million years ago, about 30 million years before the dawn of its even more, Avozilla-sized sauropod kin, like the brachiosaurus or diplodocus.
In a tweet this week, Elon Musk took offense to the B-word. No, not the actual B-word – or words, as we can actually come up with a few vulgar bilabials. He meant billionaire.
Ironically, the “billionaire” label, when used by media, is almost always meant to devalue & denigrate the subject. I wasn’t called that until my companies got to a certain size, but reality is that I still do the same science & engineering as before. Just the scale has changed.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 10, 2018
Musk was objecting to the way popular mention of his wealth, as he sees it, overshadows reports of his engineering and humanitarian efforts, here referring to his Wild Boar, a mini-submarine he invented hoping to assist the rescue of the Thai youth trapped in a cave. But the internet was not having this ostensible attempt to make billionaire a slur.
America, 2018: white guys are now claiming that billionaire is a slur pic.twitter.com/XqxN1vnSnm
— Geraldine (@everywhereist) July 11, 2018
While the word slur can characterize any derogatory or damaging insult, it usually connotes a strongly offensive term of abuse against a group of people based on their race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation – such as the N-word, the use of which compelled the founder of Papa Johns to resign this week. That’s a slur.
But billionaire? Billionaires may technically form a minority. It’s just that, oh, they own a majority of the world’s wealth. We may insult the ultra-rich as fat cats or robber barons, but the epithet tech billionaire doesn’t exactly activate any historic oppression, now does it?
Meanwhile during the incredible cave rescue in Thailand, the rest of us were contributing the best way we could: championing the navy seals, cave-divers, and brave young football team and coach they heroically extracted from the flooded caverns. And our collective chant of choice? Hooyah!
As The Guardian reported, the elite Thai navy seals, who led the mission, first posted Hooyah in a Facebook message late June to express solidarity with their supporters. The term, apparently, is owed to their American counterparts, the US Navy Seals, who cry Hooyah! to signal affirmation, show excitement, boost morale, and build camaraderie. The Thai divers continued signing off updates Hooyah during the operation, and the riveted eyes of the internet took note, hashtagging #Hooyah as they cheered on.
I don’t read Thai, but I sure understand that last word they wrote.
Universal language for, “Oh, yea! We did it!”
— David Price (@DavidPricePSU) July 10, 2018
Elaborate etymologies for Hooyah!, and its US Marines’ cousin Hoorah! and US Air Force Hooah!, have been attempted, but its expressive power is likely its root. As Kate Lyons put it in her Guardian reporting, the rallying, from-the-chest Hooyah! is ‘a triumphant, determined yell that captures something of the grit of the rescuers’. And as our tweeter here observed, it’s a sound easily understood across the truly global stage of the rescue.
English grime rapper Stormzy recently partnered with Penguin Random House to launch his own publishing imprint, #Merky Books, which he hopes will help, in turn, launch the careers of young writers across genres.
He’s the voice of a generation. Now, Stormzy is releasing his own book, Rise Up, the launch title for a brand new publishing imprint, #Merky Books. Find out more here: https://t.co/fiFjnHZU6H pic.twitter.com/ERhBx0dmWt
— Penguin Books UK (@PenguinUKBooks) July 5, 2018
The imprint’s name, #Merky, is notable to us for two reasons. First, it’s a hashtag, highlighting just how woven the signifier is in our language and culture.
Second, merky, a slang term likely unfamiliar to the readers of many Penguin’s publications – and one Stormzy has made his personal brand, including his #Merky record label. In his 2015 track ‘Know Me From’, he even raps: ‘Talk about me you better hashtag merky’. Merky, here, means ‘excellent’ or ‘first-rate’, apparently a semantic extension of an earlier sense of ‘ready to fight’ (think dominance).
The great slang lexicographer Jonathon Green puts merky as UK black slang in the mid-2010s, but its roots draw from American hip-hop in the 1990s, when we can find merk meaning ‘to excel over’ or ‘kill off’, one way of topping another. The origins of this merk are murky, though its hard-R vowel sound calls up other slang like turnt and twerk, as we noted John Oliver effectively parodied with his werpt last week.
If indeed an outgrowth of US black slang, Stormzy’s #Merky also illustrates just how global hip-hop vernacular is becoming in the influential grime and drill scenes from south London. We saw a similar international texture in last week’s Word Watch when British-Somali Sheffield Mayor Magid Magid called Donald Trump a wasteman, a slang term which has Caribbean notes. That’s pretty merky, huh?