As November comes to a close, so, too, does our Weekly Word Watch. Our final instalment brings our grand total of words watched to 279. These items have highlighted many trends in our contemporary language, including blending (catio, girther, Avocard); suffixing (bitshaming, Catalexit, woke-washing); acronyms (GMOAT, oomf, PRINO); the influence of technology (Animoji, checkout-free, textavism); euphemisms (tender-age shelter, Brexit dividend, mixed-weight); and the changing lexicon of gender and sexuality (pansexual, theyby, inclusion rider).
The items have introduced us to new terms for new experiences, challenges, and phenomena of our day: truth decay, gaming disorder, overtourism, nano-influencer. They’ve also enriched us with many foreign-language words, from the Dutch wildplassen and the Italian spelacchio to the Swedish döstädning and Finnish päntsdrunk. I think päntsdrunk remains my personal favourite over the run of this series, although moonmoon is a tempting choice. Let’s have it both ways. Who wouldn’t want to be päntsdrunk on a moonmoon?
I leave you with five items ranging wide in tone and content. Thanks very much for reading along, and while the series may be coming to end, there’s one thing I know for certain. Language is restless, and the words will just keeping on coming and coming.
This week, Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle company Goop debuted a size-inclusive clothing collection for women running from UK 02-44 (US 00-40). Size-inclusive, as both a term and concept, is part of a growing trend in fashion. More and more women’s brands, such as Rihanna’s lingerie Savage x Fenty earlier this spring, have been launching size-inclusive lines for bodies of all types in the past several years.
The term size-inclusive, along with the practice of size inclusivity, dates back in the popular lexicon to at least 2014. To my ear, size-inclusive strives to be just that: inclusive, that is, not excluding anyone on account of their body type, something that terms like plus-size can stigmatize even despite its good intentions. Size inclusivity may be a new direction in fashion – as may be inclusivity in ever more aspects of life, as gender identity proves – but this sense of inclusive is almost 100 years old. The Oxford English Dictionary currently dates it to the 1920s.
Thanks to a hit TV adaptation and the political environment in recent years, Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale, about a totalitarian religious patriarchy in the US, has seen a massive surge in popularity and interest. This week, Atwood announced a sequel will be published in September 2019, called The Testaments. The title plays on tale as well as the story’s religious content and narrative structure.
The word testament is found in English since the 14th century for ‘a will’, and its application to the biblical Old and New Testament comes from a long-ago translation of a Greek word for covenant. It comes from a Latin root that also gives us testimony, testify, and protest – the latter perhaps an apt derivative in Atwood’s vision.
Millions watched in awe as NASA’s InSight lander touched down on Mars this week. The robot’s mission is to explore the interior of the Red Planet. Word nerds, meanwhile, also marveled at Italian, which has a wonderful word for a Mars landing or touchdown: ammartaggio.
The core of ammartaggio is Marte, the Italian name for ‘Mars’, itself from the Roman god of war, Mars, the planet named by those ancients for its bloody colour. Ammartaggio was first formed in 1976 on the basis of atterràggio (‘landing manoeuvres’). Italian also has allunàggio for ‘moon landing’, which means, linguistically if not practically, it could also have aggiovaggio (Jupiter) and assaturnaggio (Saturn). With the discovery of moonmoons, could we even see allunalunàggio?!
NASA’s InSight is short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport. We suspect this is a backronym: ‘an acronym deliberately formed from a phrase whose initial letters spell out a particular word or words, either to create a memorable name or as a fanciful explanation of a word’s origin’.
We’ve got another backronym for you, brought to our attention by editor and language writer Stan Carey: SHAT. Yes, SHAT. That stands for Stool Hardness and Transit. This is a metric developed by researchers as part of an experiment with how long it takes to pass a Lego piece if swallowed. Yes, a metric developed for pooping out Lego.
Toys are commonly swallowed by children, and in an effort to assuage concerned parents, a recently published study found that it takes 1.71 days for toy objects to pass through adults without complication. This amount the researchers called, as young boys are everywhere rejoicing, their FART score, or Found and Retrieved Time.
Can shat be a past tense form of shit as opposed to shitted? Yes, it can. Shat is often used as a humourous vulgarism in contemporary speech, but it can be found as early as the 19th century, modeled on the irregular verb paradigms like sit/sat. In Middle English, for what it’s worth, the past was schote, pronounced with sh- and a long O. All in the name of science and knowledge, folks.
Perhaps our talk of SHAT and FART gave you a good chuckle – and for good reason. Two Canadian researchers, seeking to determine what makes a word funny, had subjects rate the humour of nearly 5,000 words in a recent study.
They found that words dealing with sex, animals, swear words, partying, and yes, bodily functions are deemed funnier. But the pair also concluded it comes down to sound and incongruity: ‘we demonstrate that words are judged funnier if they are less common and have an improbable orthographic or phonological structure’. This structure often features oo and K sounds along with –le’s and double letters.
And the top-ten funniest words, as ranked by their participants? Upchuck, bubby, boff, wriggly, yaps, giggle, cooch, guffaw, puffball, and jiggly. Upchuck begins as US slang, dated to at least the 1930s, for ‘vomit’. Its up seems clear enough, while chuck (‘throwing carelessly’) appears analogous to other emetic slang such as throwing up.