Weekly Word Watch: Mangkhut, sleazecore, and ‘spresm’
On this week’s Word Watch, our selections for you range from extreme weather to anticlimaxes and sleazy words to sleazy fashion.
Severe weather visited several parts of the globe this week, with Hurricane Florence ravaging the Carolinas and Storm Ali gusting over Ireland and the UK. In the Pacific, another storm claimed scores of lives: Typhoon Mangkhut.
Mangkhut is a less familiar name to Westerners than Florence or Ali. Pronounced along the lines of mung–cut, Mangkhut is a Thai name for the mangosteen. The mangosteen is a purple, apple-sized, tropical fruit with juicy white flesh. It’s native to Southeast Asia, and its name – attested in English in the late 16th century – ultimately comes from a Malay word for the fruit.
For storms in the UK and Ireland, each country’s national meteorological services (Mets) alternate between male and female names in an alphabetical set chosen for the season. For Atlantic hurricanes, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) follows a similar procedure. The WMO’s Typhoon Committee oversees the naming of typhoons in the Western North Pacific and South China Sea, with members from 14 nations represented in the region each supplying 10 names. These are not alphabetically ordered nor restricted to personal names, as we see in the case of Mangkhut.
According to the WMO, member nations can use different names for their internal coverage, as the Philippines did in calling the typhoon Ompong, an Indonesian meaning ‘toothless’ or ‘powerless’. For all the optimism of the appellation, Ompong still sadly took at least 80 lives there.
A California professor, Christine Blasey Ford, accused US President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Bret Kavanaugh, of sexual assault at a party when they were in secondary school in the 1980s. Answering the charges, Carrie Severino, a lawyer who is avidly supportive of Kavanaugh, told CNN: ‘Well look, [Ford’s] allegations cover up a whole range of conduct, from boorishness to rough horseplay to actual attempted rape’.
Severino’s choice of horseplay met with outcry, with critics saying it at once ignores the severity of Ford’s accusations and dismisses sexual violence as normal, boyish roughhousing. Trump himself caused similar outrage when he characterized his infamous Access Hollywood remarks – notably including a vulgar description of molesting female genitalia – as ‘locker room’ talk in 2016.
While making headlines in 2018, horseplay is an old word. The Oxford English Dictionary has recorded it as early as 1590 for ‘rough, boisterous play’ that goes too far. The OED also notes an obsolete sense of horseplay for theatrical performances that actually involves equines. The word seems to derive from the way horses have been observed to escalate a frolic into a fight.
As for horseplay’s common counterpart, roughhousing is so far first evidenced as the noun roughhouse for a ‘brawl’ in American English in the late 1800s. The origin is uncertain. The OED notes British newspapers describing fights at homes or inns as rough houses but also considers use of rough house as a sometime 19th-century term for shelters for vagrant children.
Fashion is fast, as we say. So, too, is the language we use to describe the hottest trends. One recent haute mot for haute couture is sleazecore.
So long, normcore. Hello, sleazecore. https://t.co/XmGwoAYekt
— Nancy Friedman (@Fritinancy) September 17, 2018
Jonathan Evans dubbed the Bieber-boasted aesthetic sleazecore in Esquire in August this year. As he described it: ‘You should be on the lookout for nylon shorts, track pants, oversized hoodies, and washed-out logo tees. Greasy hair, all the shades of hair dye, and a wispy mustache might make an appearance, too.’
For Evans, this baggy, bright, and bro-ish look has a scruffiness and scumminess, or, more dramatically, sleaze. Sleaze, attested at least by the 1950s, is a back-formation of the etymologically obscure sleazy, found in the 17th-century for ‘fabrics with thin or flimsy textures’ and extended to ‘sordid’ or ‘worthless’ by the 20th century. Evans’s application of sleaze is more apt than he may have imagined.
While fashion is constantly reinventing itself, all things come back in style, to use another sartorial saying. One thing that hasn’t yet gone out of style, though, is using the combining form -core to name fashion trends. The -core suffix came to prominence in this way in 2014 with normcore, an aesthetic of ‘unremarkable or unfashionable casual clothes’ and shortlisted for the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year that year. As Katherine Connor Martin has explained on the blog, -core is rooted in hardcore (music), which proliferated as a suffix for non-mainstream musical genres before spreading to the sewing room.
On the back of normcore, sleazecore is just one of any number of -core compounds walking the runway recently. Following up on her tweet, fellow word-watcher and naming specialist Nancy Friedman pointed out some clever and cheeky -core coinages from fashion editor Harling Ross at the website Man Repeller. These include: menocore (a flowy, Diane Keaton-esque, menopausal look), nightgowncore (wearing out the bedtime garb), and prairiecore (a bodice-forward style). Earlier in the summer, fashion observes spotlighted warcore, a militaristic look often finished off with tactical gear. And the year before saw gorpcore, or outdoors-inspired getups based on gorp, a name for a kind of trail mix enjoyed by hikers and campers, which made it onto 2017’s Word of the Year shortlist.
Finally, sometimes it’s not the words that catch our attention on the Word Watch but our attempts at them.
British MP Vince Cable elicited snickers – and puns – when he fumbled his words at a climactic moment in an address to his Liberal Democrats this week. Intending to paint pro-Brexit passion for leaving the European Union as an ‘erotic spasm’, which phrase alone raised eyebrows, Cable instead said ‘exotic spresm’.
— Sky News (@SkyNews) September 18, 2018
Observers, especially on social media, had great fun with Cable’s flub. Spresm isn’t a ‘real word’ in the conventional sense of that phrase, but at least one wit, the Lib Dems’s own MP Tim Farron, brilliantly suggested what it should mean: an ‘anticlimax’.