From Awakening to Gammon: The Humming of the People Who Coined them Life and Style


Do we live the golden age of language invention? Buzzwords and neologisms – from office jargon to lexicons of democratic chaos in Britain and the USA, as well as ever-expanding cultural wars – rained on us every day and can gain global currency at the speed of fiber optic cables. Of course, many fail – for example, “Brixit”, an early rival with Brexit, or “a generation of me,” one suggested designating what we now call millennia. Others quickly become part of modern conversation. Why, for example, are critics calling young, supposedly overly sensitive and easily evoking people “snowflakes”? Because in a 1996 novel by Fuck Club Chuck Palahniuk, Tyler Durden says, “You’re not extraordinary. You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake. “

However, Palahniuka’s contribution was random. He later explained: “When I wrote a book in 1994, I insulted anyone except myself … My use of the term” snowflake “never had anything to do with fragility or sensitivity.” Instead, using it as a means of “deprogramming”, he did not believe in his own praise. The point, however, is that you cannot control what it will do when it is out of your hands: much wider absorption can shift meaning. For example, the term “awakened” is now mockingly used for some kind of fair liberalism; but his first recorded use by African-American writer William Melvin Kelley was to imply an awareness of political issues, especially those concerning race, a positive use that still persists.

Some people exchange words for complete fun – and if the rhythm and the pleasure of sound are enough, they might be lucky enough to become viral. In this way we got a “fashionist” – coined by Stephen Freid in the 1993 biography of supermodel Gia – and “amazeballs” first used publicly by fashion blogger Elizabeth Spiridakis Olson in 2008. It’s easy to forget that every word in English language was first used; language is a record of countless creative decisions. Most responsible are lost in lexicographic history, but it is easier to identify the culprit or heroine in our online age.

I watched some of them. What is it like when a word you invented comes into the dictionary? And what is it like when it turns out of control, in a way you never intended?


The word Brexit was a tragic unintentional success in a verbal invention: minted as a warning, it became a call for assembly. Early in 2012, the possibility that Greece hit by the crisis would have to leave the euro area, designated as the Greek East for the East of Greece. Then Peter Wilding, a former advisor to David Cameron, left his position as European director of BSkyB to establish a thinktank called British Influence, which was designed to celebrate and encourage British leadership in the EU. On May 15, 2012, he published an article on a European blogging platform stating that if the British leaders did not set a positive vision of membership, “portmanteau after leaving the Greek euro could be followed by another sad word, Brexit. “

I said to David Cameron, “You may be the new Churchill. You could say that Britain is the leader in Europe. “

From 2005 to 2008, Wilding worked in Brussels as media and political director of the Conservative Party in Europe. “I found it,” she recalls now, “Britain led the show. It had all the strongest portfolios in the European Commission. Penny dropped for me: here was Britain as a leader. “

In 2016, he visited Wilding Cameron in Downing Street, who recorded the results of a survey that showed that most British people want the country to lead in Europe. “I told him,” You could be the new Churchill: you could say that Britain is the leader in Europe and we have achieved all these things. “He said,” No, we just don’t have enough time to get back. this message. We have won the Scottish referendum and general elections through fear and the economy, and we will win in the same way. “I said,” you’ll lose. ‘ “

And they lost. Was energy itself and the brio of the word Brexit part of the problem? In 2012, they circumvented alternatives: both economist and Mail pointed to a possible “Brixit”, while others suggested UKExit; but Brexit was clearly the most satisfied. Wilding says it was labeled “a sign of anger: climb, leave, we’ve had enough.”

It remains “not a sexy word”, she emphasizes. in part, it is the result of successful lobbying by anti-European conservatives to avoid referendum questions calling for a positive “yes” answer to whether Britain should reside in the EU. Brexit is now in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), which is defined as “the (proposed) withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union and the associated political process.”

When Collins named it Word of the Year, Wilding says: “It was a surprise. It has just gone mad in the public debate. I felt shocked that this would be my footnote in the Brexit saga. “And now? The word Brexit thinks “it could go down in history, like Vichy or Versailles, as an epitaph for a declining nation.”

Gigová ekonomika

“The Concert Economy” has long been a charming euphemism for a world of zero-hour contracts and contracts. Why worry that giant corporations like Uber don’t want to classify their drivers as employees? If we all do “concerts”, we are all hip jazzers. (The word “concert” – “etymology unknown”, notes OED – has meant musical engagement since the 1920s.) However, this sentence was originally created as a critique.

On January 12, 2009, journalist and editor Tina Brown wrote an article on the Daily Beast website stating: “No one I know has a job. They have concerts. “

People she knew who had worked in the media more and more worked in two or three part-time or freelance positions. “For the people I know in lower brackets, they live from payday before payday, the gig economy has been an old report for years,” she added. “What’s new is the way she struck a demographic group who assumed that elite college education was a passport to job security.” Now everyone was a “busy class” and the company’s managers were “fascinated” by the idea that everyone could be now hired cheaply – that everyone is slave labor ”.

“He’s my baby”: Tina Brown in a “huge economy”. Photo: Christopher Lane / Observer

It was 10 years ago and it looks awfully prophetic. When people started using the word ‘concert’ in this context, Brown says, it was now being projected ‘cooling by cold because of the difficulties caused by the economic downturn. It is great to say, “I like these concerts rather than say,“ My main job has disappeared. “Thanks to its cool sound, it has helped make people familiar with this phenomenon.”

Does it regret that it helps to keep the uncertainty cold? He laughs. “I’m sorry if I had a book called The Gig Economy, I’d make a lot of money. I feel quite proud to see the conference entitled Managing the Huge Economy – it’s my child. “The euphemistic gloss of the phrase seems to have disappeared in any case. When asking questions about a gigantic economy in Parliament, it is more in the context of protecting vulnerable workers than celebrating their freedoms.

The economy of the concert, Brown points out, leaves American workers without health care and could have harmed social cohesion: “I think everyone was so desperately scratching around their three jobs that the other thing they cared about was other people.”

It’s not like everything was perfect before. “It turned out that the jobs that people depended on were treacherous,” she added, adding that at least these days “if you get dismissed from one concert, you have two more”.


Millennium, huh? They are everywhere, with their selfies and their avocado toasts and a flawless refusal to save the house. The town vocabulary is right that millennia is “a name that an old man gives to a young man he doesn’t like”.

Since the 17th century, the “millennium” may have been used as a synonym of “millennium”: associated with the belief that the second coming of Christ is imminent and will mark the millennium era of peace. However, it was first used to describe a particular group of people – those who would have grown up in 2000 – in Neil Howe’s and William Strauss’s 1991 book, Generations: A History of the Future of America, 1584-2069.

Howe explains that they were looking for the name “high school class 2000, growing up in the new millennium” and wanted to have a positive label, so it was millennia. Chuckling, Howe notes that the name for the previous cohort, generation X, has not yet been written while writing the book. (Douglas Coupland’s novel Generation X was released in the same year.) “So to make General Xers feel even worse,” he says, “the generation that came after them was named before they were.” Gen Xers wouldn’t mind, of course, he adds: “They have such a sense of humor.

Naming a generation is like shooting a bullet into a cave and looking at it. You never know where it works

The term millennium has not really exploded in popularity until the new millennium. Howe points out that for most of the 1990s he fought with competing brands such as the Y generation. This name says, “it has almost always been a derogatory alternative. People used it to point out that this new generation was all that was the Xers, but it was more extreme. More commercial, more risking, at the top. You know, like, “Gen Xers is a bit alienated from family life, but these children are just a short distance away.” “On the contrary, he and Strauss predicted that millennia would be” closer to their family, more to the community, more optimistic about the future. “.

Howe now talks about the differences between the generations, “like the Rorschach test. You talk about politics, culture, demography, social sciences, epidemiology. Gets the color of emotion the person who uses it wants to have. “If the millennium currently has a mockery or derogatory sense, it says more about the older generations that use it than the millennium itself.

“Naming one generation is like shooting bullets into a cave and watching it ricochet everywhere,” says Howe. “You never know where it goes.”


For more than a decade, crowdsourcing has been a hot fashion word for companies that want to profit from people’s talents without paying for it. This is a handy outsourcing game (shifting jobs to external suppliers or overseas), combined with allusion to James Surowiecki’s 2004 bestseller The Wisdom O’F Crowds, who celebrated collaborative efforts like Wikipedia and the surprising accuracy of predictive markets where aggregate bets on events such as elections can predict results better than experts.

The word crowdsourcing was created in June 2006, in an article for Wired by Jeff Howe. “Industries as different as the pharmaceutical and television industries (discovering) have ways to take advantage of the crowd’s latent talent,” he wrote. “Work is not always free, but it costs much less than paying traditional employees. It is not outsourcing; it’s crowdsourcing. “It was an elegant and elegant introduction to the very successful coinage. Did Howe know he was doing it then? “You know, we did, yes,” he says now.

Two years ago, Wired editor-in-chief Chris Anderson devised the phrase “Long Tail” to describe the potential long-term viability of specialized products on services such as Amazon or Netflix (at that time a DVD rental company), and this became a hit book. “So the idea of ​​crowdsourcing was half-designed at the beginning to parody the emergence of such fashion words,” says Howe.

He was also interested in the possibility of a new model of cooperation. “One thing that we were connected to a cable connection in those days,” she recalls, “was that we really had an ear in terms of technology and culture. So we knew that timing was right, that thing started and no one knew what to call it. “

Even McDonald joined the game and sold crowdsourced burgers in 2014. Photo: Getty Images

The word ran with amazing speed. “There were 600,000 mentions on Google in two weeks. And it never slowed down. “He published a bestseller book with the same name in 2008 and is now a professor of journalism at Northeastern University in Boston. “One thing I would say is that we really needed the word at the time,” Howe adds. “It wasn’t one of those cruel marketing words that they adopted the types of management consultants. Something really exciting was happening in the mid-twenties, and we haven’t had the language yet. “

Really. Crowdsourcing has since been used cynically and has been appropriated by huge brands such as Starbucks (who has been looking for customer improvements through its My Starbucks Idea since 2008) and McDonald’s (who sold “crowdsourced” burgers in 2014), but can describe also a kind of global altruistic effort that only the Internet allows.

According to Google Trends, the most popular word search was in March 2014, when eight million people around the world used their computer skills to search for Flight MH370 from Malaysia Airlines, which disappeared after takeoff and is expected to crash in the Indian Ocean. They did not find the plane, but this kind of effort, as well as the joint investigation of store reports like Bellingcat, give crowdsourcing a good reputation.


There’s something about phrase watching that summarizes not only modern ways of media consumption, but our whole culture. It is an ideal metaphor for people from the Netflix era, whom Aristotle would call “incontinent” in his desires: who want more and more of the same, without patience or self-control. We are all toddlers who fail the notorious (and recently challenged) marshmallow test, according to which a child who is able to wait for a sweet one at a tender age will show more independence and success than an adult.

In the North English dialect, bingeing was to soak up a wooden barrel, and bingeing meant drinking from the 19th century as defined in the Northamptonshire dictionary from the time: “A man goes to the cellar to get a good binge or to hang out alone. “

This is one of the best things on the Internet. You never know what kind of reach something you say will have

Even the word binge-watching dates from more innocent times: long before the advent of online streaming. It was first recorded in 1996 when watching all the episodes of the series in a row meant getting a set of VHS tapes. That’s what a New England science student called Bob Donahue was looking for when he posted the following posts to a local Usenete newsgroup that year: “I just became addicted to The X-Files, so I’m a little behind … the tapes from this show back to season 1 they would be willing to lend to me to catch up effectively? I would be happy if I could travel anywhere to get them and then bring them back (in fact, we are all three who were all hooked at the same time, so I predicted that some MASSIVE Binge- would watch immediately!: – ) “.

“What a great revelation!” He says Donahue now that I tell him he probably coined this phrase. “But to be honest, I have no memory of whether I created a phrase out of the cuff or whether I used something I’ve heard before.” I’m afraid I haven’t had any thoughts about this over the years because, frankly, I don’t remember. “

After a career as an astrophysicist and now a web developer for educational foundations, Donahue still does what he named: “Some performances – for example, Game Of Thrones – are too irresistible.”

After coining a binge-watch like a gerund (or verbal noun), the verb “binge-watch” followed. This is also the first time recorded on Usenet, where someone asked in 1998 for a post: “Do you ever fool your watch (marathon)?” It was also in the context of The X-Files, so it really was Scully and Mulder who started everything. In online lexicographical history the truth is true. “I think it’s one of the best things on the internet,” says Donahue. “You never know what kind of reach something you’re saying will have.”

smoked ham

On June 8, 2017 British child author Ben Davis was drunk by hating BBC One’s Question Hour. The Fed leaned into a picture of the various older-eyed red-eyed people who spoke from the audience and wrote, “Whatever happens, hopefully politicians will start listening to the young ppl after that. This big Gammon wall has a long way to go. “

“When I sent this tweet, even in a drunk state, I had no idea, it would have some impact,” Davis says. “I thought he was going to get lost on the air.” When I started receiving requests from serious intelligence organizations to discuss gamma, my belief that the world was irrevocably mad was only deepening. “

It turned out that Gammon had legs: it was joyfully adopted on the left to describe the red-haired middle-aged white people with the reactionary views and time of any pro-Brexit. A year later, the Americans, who were helpless, discussed how the British are now seriously debating whether gamma was a racist word.

Gammon: from meat to hot potatoes. Photo: Getty Images

This was partly because Northern Ireland MEP Emma Little-Pengelly of DUP tweeted: “I am appalled by the expression” gammon “, which now often enters the lexicon of so many (especially left) and seemingly (sic) accepted. This is a term based on skin color and age – stereotypes by color or age are bad, regardless of race, age or community. It’s just wrong. “

Other commentators have expressed the view that gmon cannot be racist and was fine as a word of abuse, you know, gammons. Some devoted philologists have explored the historical context in the soothing corners of the media: there was someone in the jargon of thieves of the 18th century who was distracting the brand’s attention; in the 19th century, gamb could also mean things and nonsense that modern gamma could throw away. Journalist Caitlin Moran also deserves a share of the original credit for calling David Cameron a “weak camp robot” in 2012.

“I mean two things,” Davis says. “When used against real bigots, I’m fine. When I see it as an acronym for workers, I’m not so excited. I’m not even proud to create another weapon in an online culture war that shows no sign of cessation. “

Is there a report in this story about how social media and alcohol are probably not the safest classmates? “I’m pretty sure it was my only foray into drunk tweeting and I’m sure it will be my last,” Davis says. “In fact, I think all electronic communication devices should be equipped with breathing devices.”

• Steven Poole’s word for every day of the year is published by Quercus for GBP 14.99.

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