BUNCH OF FIVES: Adam C Sharp | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Words: Adam C Sharp

I’ve spent much of the last five years researching words, idioms and proverbs from languages around the world. I’ve always grouped my favourite expressions into lists, and when I began posting those lists on Twitter (@AdamCSharp), they happily resonated with many people. It even led to a series of books of the lists: The Correct Order of Biscuits and The Wheel is Spinning but the Hamster is Dead (and a third on the way). I’ve also developed a one-hour show, Lists But Not Brahms, based on the books and I will be performing it at Newcastle Central Library on Thursday 6th June (tickets are free but please register here). All of which is to say, I love language, and especially colloquial language and how it evolves. So, to illustrate, let me share some international words that have been coined for the modern world…

5. Almost everyone has a smartphone these days, even me (after finally retiring my old Nokia and joining the modern world last year), and this has resulted in several fun new words. Hungarian has a word to describe watching films or TV shows on a phone, egérmozi, which means ‘mouse cinema’. And a German word related to smartphones is Knäckebrottelefonierer, which describes a person who talks into their phone while holding it in front of their mouth like a cracker. It means ‘crispbread phoner’. Another German word is a portmanteau that describes a person who doesn’t look where they’re going while on their phone. The word was the 2015 Jugendwort des Jahres (Youth Word of The Year) and it combines smartphone and zombie… Smombie.

4. There are also several words about the apps that live on our phones. The Dutch word spookregen was coined for when a weather app tells you it’s raining but it isn’t. It means ‘ghost rain’. And German has a word for someone who is old enough to use 18+ dating apps, Tinderjährig, which means, literally, ‘Tinder-years-old’.

3. They’re not all that new anymore, of course, but I should also mention the meanings of some words for a computer – or what, in my house, is known as ‘the frustration box’ (technology really isn’t my strong point). The Icelandic word for a computer, tölva, means ‘number prophetess’ or ‘number witch’. The Turkish word, bilgisayar, means ‘knowledge counter’. The Mandarin 電腦 means ‘electric brain’. And in Austrian slang a computer is sometimes called a Blechtrottel, which means ‘tin idiot’.

2. There have also been numerous words coined as a result of growing awareness of climate change, such as the Swedish smygflyga, which is not admitting to taking a flight because of shame about carbon footprints. It means ‘sneak flying’. Its counterpart is tågskryta, which is proudly telling everyone you took the train instead, literally ‘train brag’.

1. Finally, I should say something about the words that popped up in response to the COVID outbreak and the resultant lockdowns, specifically from Australian slang, which was arguably the most creative when it came to inventing pandemic terminology. For example, a ‘TikTok scientist’ was a name given to anti-vaxxers, who were also sometimes known as ‘Instagram academics’ or ‘plague enthusiasts’. Having a swab test could be referred to as ‘a nasal appraisal’ and, in the early days of the pandemic, COVID itself was occasionally known (and I’m afraid this is in poor taste, even by Aussie slang standards) as ‘the boomer remover’. And Melbourne (where I lived for over ten years), and the rest of the state of Victoria, were in lockdown longer than anywhere else in Australia because of what was perceived as a lax initial approach to hotel quarantining. This led to the people of Melbourne being labelled ‘Spice Girls’ (because everyone was trying their hardest except Victoria).


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