Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Idiom of the day - Zip it

This is taken from an article in The New Daily, an online Australian newspaper, which appeared in December last year. The occasion was the election of a new leader (Bill English) and deputy leader of the National Party. The newly-elected (by her party) deputy leader of the NZ National Party was Paula Bennett, referred to as “former teen solo mum Paula Bennett”. 
The idiomatic expression (or metaphor) used by Paula Bennett was zip-it. You can watch the episode in which she used the expression in a clip from Parliament, linked from an article in the New Zealand Herald. There was some discussion of the appropriateness of a Minister using the expression “zip it, sweetie”, as she did, but the Speaker decided that the usage was trivial, and disallowed the comments.
There was no discussion of the pronounciation of the consonants in “zip it”, which would have aroused comment in Australia, as would the expression “a bit of a difference”, also used by the Minister. 
The Auckland Herald made the expression its top quote of 2012. when the incident took place in the New Zealand Parliament. 
According to the Cambridge dictionary, “zip it” is “rude and angry way of telling someone to stop talking”, with this example given: Just zip it - I'm tired of listening to you complain. This wasn’t the interpretation given by the Speaker of the NZ Parliament. The zip (a closure device) features in quite a few idioms or metaphors, as does its verb form (“to fasten with a zip”). 
The Urban Dictionary traces the term back to about 1988, when it was used by a notorious talk-show host in the United States, Morton Downey Jr.


Saturday, 17 December 2016

Word of the Day - Invisibilised

I was watching the television news last week, and was intrigued to hear Professor Rosalind Croucher, the head of the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC), use the word invisibilised. The ALRC is conducting an enquiry into elder abuse, and has just issued a discussion paper on the topic, according to the ABC News

Professor Croucher was being interviewed in connection with a news item about aged people being robbed by their children and other loved ones. "People describe powers of attorney as a licence to steal," she said in the interview.

In the course of her comments, Professor Croucher used the term invisibilised, which appears to be a nice verbing of the adjective invisible. 

But it isn't a neologism. It has been used for some years in a clinical context. Heaslip & Ryden, in their book Understanding Vulnerability, include a section on invisibilisation which refers to invisibilising of vulnerable people in care. Like this 

"Ahmed is on a cardiac ward awaiting an angiogram. Each day the hurses/carers come along to make his bed. Ahmed is asked to sit out on the chair beside the bed, whilst the health carers make the bed. They engage in a discussion about their own lives and what they did the night before. At no point is Ahmed invited to join the conversationnor is there any eye contact with him to suggest he might be involved. The health carers complete the bed and move on to the next bed, with a cursory nod to indicate Ahmed can sit back on his bed."

And the French verb, invisibiliser, meaning to render invisible, has been used since the mid-19th century, with much the same meaning. In English, according to the NGRAM, it has been used only since 1980.

So a word with a specialised niche meaning has been given a wider currency. The rapid rate of growth in use seems likely to continue, unless people stop invisibilising old, ill and other vulnerable people. 

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Word of the Day - Verb

Today's word is verb, used as a verb. I quote a Facebook post from Christine Mackenzie, "Is there any word which can't be verbed?" 

She gave this lovely example "The strategy, helmed by major shareholder James Packer." And in return Susan Bray quoted Shakespeare "they heroed me" from KJulius Caesar. And I said that I was too sydneyed out to think of an answer.

What is the answer? Perhaps we should accept the inevitability of verbing, and see if there might be rules which can make it possible to verb any word in the English language - as long as it is not already a verb, of course. Perhaps the last word should go, for now, to Anthony Gardner writing in The Economist a few years ago about verbing, or more correctly, denominalisation. Not the real last word - that will be the last word to be verbed. Gardner gives two nice examples from the sixteenth century:

Shakespeare’s Duke of York, in “Richard II” (c1595), says “Grace me no grace, nor uncle me no uncle”, and the 1552 Book of Common Prayer includes a service “commonly called the Churching of Women”.

I've decided to revive this blog. I will continue to look at neologisms, but I have become quite fascinated lately by idioms, metaphors, similes, figures of speech and the like. Send me your favourite examples, and I'll tell you all about them in this blog.

Thank you Chris.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Word of the day - niche

Today's word is niche, used as a verb. In fact, used at a meeting that I recently attended, in the sentence "We have to niche up some of the messages." It is interesting that niche seems to take the preposition "up" although it could just as well have taken the opposite - "niche down". 

Dictionary.com accepts niche as a verb and gives the brief definition "to place [something] in a niche." Google's definition search facility amplifies this definition: Place or position (something) in a niche: "these elements were niched within the shadowy reaches"; "decorated with niched statues". (NB: to use the Google definition search, you just type in the word and add the word "definition", e.g. "irony definition").

The meaning of the illustrative sentence I have given you is that we must position ourselves with a wide range of interested groups, even though they may be small, by targeting our messages more explicitly. I guess that's a good idea.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Word of the day

Today's word is caveat, used as a verb. Used in a meeting right here, yesterday. But I loved it at first sight. In fact, this usage goes back some time. 

We all know what a caveat is in normal usage - it is used in the sense of a qualification or warning, a limitation to a statement's face value meaning. It is from Latin, and is used in Latin expressions such as caveat emptor (let the buyer beware).

Here's an example from the Wiktionary of this usage, from former US Secretary of State, General Alexander Haig, famous for his creative use of English: 'I'll have to caveat my response, Senator, and I'll caveat that' - from Robert McCrum's The Story of English.

The legitimacy of Haig's usage as been debated, but as McCrum says, he was simply displaying the virtuosity of English, if not its grace. Don't caveat me, and I won't caveat you.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Word of the day

Today's word is goat rodeo. According to the notes on my CD of The Goat Rodeo Sessions, quoting the Urban Dictionary, a goat rodeo is "A chaotic situation, often one that involves several people, each with a different agenda/vision/perception of what's going on; a situation that is very difficult, despite energy and efforts, to instill any sense or order into", or "A situation that order cannot be brought to any time."

For example:"Management's nuts. By the time each of them has his say and policy gets to us, it's a goat rodeo."
and
"We had Ondine's fifth birthday party yesterday. What a goat rodeo!"
Yo-Yo Ma, in calling his classical cello meets bluegrass sessions a goat rodeo, is being ironic. You can read all about the CD on Yo-Yo Ma's own site, or in a nice piece in Billboard, or on the Readings online site.  

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Word of the day

Names are always a source of interest, and one of my favourite categories of names is people with two surnames - like Gordon Thomas, or Jackson Jackson. Unlike most names in English, they are also reversible.
Today's word is Jay, a name and a letter. I have been reading about the tussle between Mike Rann, premier of South Australia, and Jay Weatherill (picture with family, and article about him here). Mr Weatherill was nominated by "the factions" to succeed Mr Rann, and this will happen today. I have been struck how odd it sounds to hear a name which is also an initial - Jay in this case. It only becomes less odd through familiarity. The names Bea, Dee, Kay and Em may have the same initial effect, but I have gotten used to them, attached as they are to real people. 
These are the only names I know in English which sound like a single letter of the alphabet, and all but one of them is an abbreviation. There aren't any more, but I could be wrong - let me know.