Pardon my kummerspeck

Evolution, American-Style by Mike Licht

IT’S almost the end of another year, and the beginning of a stream of best-of lists – songs, books, websites, gadgets – in fact, almost anything you can think of.

As a complete and utter word nerd, my own favourites are the dictionary top 10 word lists. Oxford Dictionaries were first out of the starting gate this year – and what a disappointment theirs is.

Their word of the year – chosen, incidentally, by both the US and UK versions – is “squeezed middle”!

Quite apart from the fact it’s a phrase and not a word, I’ve never heard of it. Have you?

The obscure – to me, anyway – phrase “took it by a whisker”, says the OD blog, as there were so many that could have qualified.

My favourite Language Log linguist, Geoffrey K Pullum, is also pretty miffed that for the past couple of years, Oxford Dictionary’s “word” of the year has been a phrase.

“I want to argue that this is a mistake, not just because they have chosen an utterly undistinguished item, but because what they have chosen is a straightforwardly compositional phrase, one that couldn’t be argued to be a lexical item at all … squeezed just means ‘squeezed’, and middle just means ‘middle’, and if you put the two together you have the literal meaning. It is ridiculous to think of putting this in a dictionary.”


The phrase is, he says, “a UK Labour Party politician’s feeble phrase for denoting an allegedly squeezed and put-upon class trapped in between the welfare riff-raff below … and the fat-cat billionaires above.”

It’s a phrase used by politicians to make everyone think they’re part of the suffering masses … and “oil them up for voting”.

Overall, the Oxford’s top 10 is not a jolly set, they admit, (well, apart from the Berlusconi-inspired “bunga bunga”, which is jolly graphic if you’re into orgies, I reckon) adding: “In a year like this, it is hardly surprising that the tone is a sombre one. Financial hardship and protest on an unprecedented scale have scored our language deeply (and no doubt many others, too).”

Those others include “Arab Spring”, “occupy”,  and “fracking”.

Following hot on the Oxford’s heels, as it were, The Hot Word online dictionary’s readers have also been influenced by this year’s worldwide political turmoil. Their altogether more mundane top 5 contenders are “winning”, “occupy”, “spring”, “jobs”, and “austerity”.

Global Language Monitor reckons “occupy” is 2011’s word of the year, with “Arab Spring” the top phrase.

“Deficit”, “fracking”, “drone”, and “non-veg” (huh?), make up their top 5, but number 6 has to be my own favourite – now I’ve discovered it, that is.

It’s kummerspeck, taken from the German but “seeing wider acceptance in English”, says the monitor’s website.

Quite apart from the fact that the word rolls off the tongue so roundly, its meaning is particularly appropriate for me right now – “excess weight gained from emotional over-eating”- a squeezed middle, you might even say, which is why I’m adopting it immediately. – Stevie Godson
(A version of this column first appeared in the Daily Dispatch)

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This entry was posted by stevieg on Saturday, December 3rd, 2011 at 9:18 am and is filed under General . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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