It’s hard to keep up with a language evolving as fast as English. Before you know it, a new turn of phrase has come and gone before you can say selfie. That’s so passé. Do try to keep up. Let’s have a look at some trends from 2015.
1 Portmanteaus, or word mashups
It’s been climbing the charts for a few years now, but in 2015, the portmanteau officially arrived. Portmanteaus are nothing new, but lately they’re “spiviralling” out of control. That’s a new one right there; we can’t break their stride. Originally meaning a suitcase with two equal compartments, portmanteau is now used to describe the merging of two words to create a new, unique meaning. Also known as a “word blend,” many are so baked into English we no longer notice the separate ingredients, as with brunch, motel, or workaholic. Often credited with switching on the blender in 1871 was Lewis Carroll. In his Through the Looking Glass, Humpty Dumpty explains the word slithy to a confused Alice:
Well, “slithy” means “lithe and slimy.” “Lithe” is the same as “active.” You see it’s like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word.
In recent years we’ve had a love affair with word mushing. Trendy business buzzwords like mompreneur (mom + entrepreneur) and guesstimate (guess + estimate) cropped up. Technology has presented us with new objects for which no words exist. And when we do try to describe them, we sometimes end up with creations like phablet, a mix of phone and tablet.
Similarly, as new conditions arise, a scramble to name them ensues and word blends are the choice of choice. A recent Wall Street Journal article ponders the phenomenon of people who text while walking—should they be named pedtextrians (pedestrians+texters) or wexters (walkers + texters)? Elsewhere, a suggestion to Oxford Dictionaries proposed they be described as moblivious (mobile + oblivious). Whatever it is, nothing less than a portmanteau will do. Hell, there are even guides on what makes a rough blend or a smooth blend.
In December, Oxford Dictionaries added twitterati (Twitter + literati) into its fold, and indeed it is the twitterati who cook up of many of these blends. Starting off with some portmanteau peeps—no celebrity couple is an item until they’ve had their names mushed together. We’ve all heard of Kimye ( Kim Kardashian and Kanye West) and Brangelina (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie). But 2015 has seen the portmanteaus evolve from the Twittersphere slang to legitimate and political terms. From the US presidential race the words cuckservative and hispadering have emerged through Twitter. The former is an insult used within Republican debates and is a mix of cuckold (a husband whose wife cheats on him) and conservative. The latter was an accusation fired at Hillary Clinton after her attempt to appeal to the Hispanic vote, a mix of pandering and Hispanic.
The news coverage of countries possibly exiting the European Union was peppered with the terms Grexit (Greece + exit) and Brexit (Britain + exit). These terms were used widely without explanation or irony. Grexit was even shortlisted for the Oxford Dictionary word of the year.
2 Mx., a gender-neutral honorific
The new honorific Mx. (pronounced “mix”), has begun to take its place among the traditional Mr., Mrs., Miss, and Ms. It has emerged from obscurity to being used in an article in the New York Times in June and has been added to dictionary.com and Oxford English Dictionaries. The title has been adopted by transgender individuals, non-binary people, or those who don’t wish to reveal their gender. This sudden acceptance of a relatively unknown title reflects how 2015 has seen conventional gender identities reassessed.
According to Jonathan Dent, OED assistant editor, the honorific first appeared in the American magazine Single Parent in 1977. It was then mooted as an alternative to the standard titles. At that time, Ms. was entering the mainstream, allowing speakers to avoid the implications about marital status inherent in Mrs. or Miss.
Taking the lead among British institutions, The Royal Bank of Scotland provided customers with the option of Mx. when filling out forms. Others have followed suit. In the United States, the title is beginning to make itself known. Events such as the public transitioning of Bruce Jenner to Caitlyn Jenner and her appearance on the cover of Vanity Fair during the summer highlighted issues of gender and sparked subsequent discussions. About the same time, the New York Times tried out using the term Mx. In a later piece, Philip B. Corbett, an editor at the New York Times said that the paper is not entirely ready to roll out the red carpet for the title. “It remains too unfamiliar to most people, and it’s not clear when or if it will emerge as a widely adopted term,” he said.
However, this statement was published before Ms. achieved the milestone of entering the OED. Also, the Times, in turn, raised awareness of Mx. and prompted a further bout of media coverage explaining the title. It made its mark in 2015 and might be commonplace by the end of 2016. Watch this space.
3 Delicious words
In the year 2015, it was food o’clock. If you didn’t get your fair share of eats, you might be hangry about it now. Maybe you clock up a few food miles, or perhaps you’re more of a locavore? Or could it be that you’ve been living in a bubble and have no idea what any of this means? Well, food is trending—the way we eat, what we eat, where it comes from, and who it comes from. Again, the Internet has incubated many of these new phrases, as food bloggers and foodie users of Instagram and Pinterest all find each other and find terms for every kind of gastronomical state or niche.
Josh Friedland, a food blogger, says this “has spawned an ever-expanding vocabulary to capture our fast-moving edible landscape” and was compelled to compile a dictionary called Eatymology: The Dictionary of Modern Gastronomy. Dictionaries are trying to catch the trend, but it’s moving along swiftly and they are only grabbing the tail. Oxford Dictionaries named locavore—someone who eats only locally sourced food—as its word of the year in 2007 but has only included it in its dictionary in December 2015. However, Friedland’s blog lists farm drag as one of his favorite 2015 food terms. According to Friedland, the term is a reaction to locavorism, especially where it has been hijacked and made into a cliché by restaurants hoping to remain on-trend.
Another neologism linking food and environment is climatarian. Like locavores, climatarians aim to reverse climate change by avoiding meat and eating local. Food and emotion are found together in hangry, how we feel when we are hungry and angry. The obsession with photographing your dinner and uploading it to social media has created loads of foodspo, or food-porn.
Wine o’ clock or beer o’ clock, also added to Oxford Dictionaries in 2015, is when a person decides that it’s the correct time to have a glass of the drink in question.
Our appetite for food lore is not yet satisfied and looks to continue into 2016.