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Sunday, December 21, 2014

More New English Words in Oxford and Other Dictionaries

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

The article I wrote about two weeks ago on new words that have been added to the lexical pantheon of the English language elicited tremendous interest from my readers—at least judging by the several enthusiastic emails I have received in the aftermath of the article’s publication. Encouraged by this, I have decided to introduce readers to more new words the Oxford Dictionaries—and other English dictionaries—added to the language this year.

So here goes:

Acquihire. This is a noun, and it means “An act or instance of buying out a company primarily for the skills and expertise of its staff, rather than for the products or services it supplies.” Usage examples include “the start-ups are being acquihired in a bid to harvest their talent”; “It's powered by talent acqhired from a solar-powered drone maker as well as poached from NASA.”

The word is a portmanteau made by joining “acquire” and “hire.”

Air punch. This is defined as “An act of thrusting one’s clenched fist up into the air, typically as a gesture of triumph or elation.” Example: “the verdict was greeted with cheers and air punches by her family and friends.”

Amazeballs. It’s an informal word for “extremely good or impressive; amazing.” Example: “The atmosphere was nothing special but the food was amazeballs.” Oxford says the word is the product of a humorous contortion of “amazing.” I frankly don’t see what lexical void this word fills. I am not confident it won’t be a lexical flash in the pan.

Anti-vax. This informal American English adjective is derived from the shortening of “anti-vaccination.” Oxford Dictionaries defines it as “opposed to vaccination.” Usage examples are “anti-vax parents,” “Anti-vax sentiments have, in fact, been around since Edward Jenner first demonstrated the effectiveness of the smallpox vaccine in the late 18th century.”

The dictionary traces the word’s origins to the 1990s, but it is just now being considered a legitimate word worthy of an entry in the dictionary. This word would resonate with many northern Nigerians where “anti-vax” sentiments still remain high.

Binge-watch (binge-view). This is another informal word that began life in 1990s America and has become a prominent part of the active idiolect of contemporary young Americans. It is defined as “Watch multiple episodes of (a television programme) in rapid succession, typically by means of DVDs or digital streaming.” Example: “you can binge-watch the entire season with this set.”
The nominal form of the word is binge-watching or binge-viewing.

To “binge” is to overindulge in something, usually food. Older words formed in combination with “binge” are “binge-eat” and “binge-drink.”

Bro hug. This is actually one of my favorites of the new words Oxford welcomed to its database. It is defined as “a friendly embrace between two men.” The “bro” in the phrase is the short form of “brother” that has been part of African American English for years. Another variation of the expression is “man hug.” Usage example: “they had a little bro hug in front of the cameras.”

The phrase is important, I think, because it helps to denote that the embrace between two men isn’t homoerotic. 

Clickbait. As a new media scholar, I have been using this word for at least the last five years. I am glad it’s been finally legitimized for popular usage. Oxford Dictionaries defines it as “(On the Internet) content whose main purpose is to attract attention and encourage visitors to click on a link to a particular web page. Example: “These recent reports of the show’s imminent demise are hyperbolic clickbait.” Clickbait is the Internet’s equivalent of yellow journalism.

Clickbait can also be used as a modifier, as in “a clickbait article,” or “clickbait blog posts.”

Deep Web. This is defined as “The part of the World Wide Web that is not discoverable by means of standard search engines, including password-protected or dynamic pages and encrypted networks.” Example: “The biggest weakness of the Deep Web is also its greatest strength: it’s really hard to find anything.”

Doncha (also dontcha, don'tcha). The word is derived from the informal contraction of “don’t you.” This looks like one of those words that will be perpetually stuck informal, colloquial register, like “gonna,” (going to) or wanna (want to). But the word isn’t new. It’s been around for years. 

Other New Words You Should Note

Douchebaggery (n.): obnoxious or contemptible behavior.

E-cig (n.): another term for electronic cigarette.

Fandom (n.): the fans of a particular person, team, series, etc., regarded collectively as a community or subculture.

Fast follower (n.): a company that quickly imitates the innovations of its competitors.

5:2 diet (n.): a diet that involves eating normally for five days out of a seven-day period and greatly restricting the amount of food eaten on the other two days.

FML (abbrev.): (vulgar slang) f— my life! (used to express dismay at a frustrating personal situation)

Hot mic (n.): a microphone that is turned on, in particular one that broadcasts a spoken remark that was intended to be private.

Humblebrag (n. & v.): (make) an ostensibly modest or self-deprecating statement whose actual purpose is to draw attention to something of which one is proud.

ICYMI (abbrev.): in case you missed it.

Mud run (n.): an event in which participants negotiate a course consisting of obstacles filled or covered with mud.

Neckbeard (n.): growth of hair on a man’s neck, especially when regarded as indicative of poor grooming.

Paleo diet (n.): a diet based on the type of foods presumed to have been eaten by early humans.

Sentiment analysis (n.): the process of computationally identifying and categorizing opinions expressed in a piece of text.

Smartwatch (n.): a mobile device with a touchscreen display, worn on the wrist.

SMH (abbrev.): shaking (or shake) my head (used to express disapproval, exasperation, etc.).

Subtweet (n.): (on Twitter) a post that refers to a particular user without directly mentioning them, typically as a form of furtive mockery or criticism.

Tech-savvy (n.): well informed about or proficient in the use of modern technology.

Time-poor (adj.): spending much of one’s time working or occupied.

Throw shade (phr.): publicly criticize or express contempt for someone.

WDYT (abbrev.): what do you think?

YOLO (abbrev.): you only live once (expressing the view that one should make the most of the present moment).

Notable Words of the Year
Chambers Dictionary and Collins English Dictionary, two well-regarded dictionaries in Britain, named their words of the year early in the year. The words have also helped expand and legitimize our lexical repertoire. 

Chambers Dictionary’s word of the year is “overshare.” It defines it as “to be unacceptably forthcoming with information about one’s personal life.” It can also mean unsolicited and inappropriate self-disclosure of private, intimate information with online interlocutors. In addition, it can be used to denote the disclosure of the private, often embarrassing, information about one’s ex-lover, with intent to expose them to ridicule.

Chambers calls the word “beautifully British.” But that’s not accurate. As Michael Quinion of World Wide Words noted, “It’s neither British nor new, as it was first recorded as teen slang in the US in the 1990s and appeared in print in the New York Times as early as 1998.”

Runners-up to “overshare” are “bashtag,” defined as “a hashtag used for critical or abusive comments” and “digital native,” defined as “a person who has learned to use computers as a child.”

Collins English Dictionary, for its part, chose “photobomb” as its word of the year. It means “to intrude into the background of a photograph without the subject’s knowledge.” This is what Collins wrote to justify its choice: “The main spike in the Bank of English occurs in early August 2012 relating to the ‘Queen photobomb’, when an official called Phil Coates intruded into pictures of the Queen at the opening of the London Olympics. Since then, recorded usage has doubled every year.

“We had been tracking ‘photobomb’ for a couple of years but were not sure that it would become widely established. Its vastly increased prominence in 2014 shows the power of media and sporting events to publicise a word and bring it into wider use.”

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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Emir Muhammadu Sanusi II and Vanguard’s Internet-Age Junk Journalism

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.

Vanguard is Nigeria’s most visited news website and the 17th top Nigerian website in all categories, according to Alexa, the Amazon-owned American company that monitors global web traffic. It also has the most Facebook “likes” of any Nigerian newspaper and is outrivaled only slightly by the Punch as the newspaper with the most Twitter followers in Nigeria. But it is also perhaps the most irresponsible and undiscerning user of unverified social media tittle-tattle in its news stories. That, for me, is a troubling mix.

You would think an Internet- and social media-savvy newspaper like Vanguard would also have the common sense to know that not everything posted on the web is worth publishing without further verification and fact-checking. The paper’s editorial philosophy seems to be that whatever is on the web, especially on social media, is inerrant and deserves to be in the news. These days, the paper’s reporters just scout Facebook and Twitter and scoop any trending gossip from cyberia. 

The latest malicious social media gossip that Vanguard gave editorial endorsement to is a tweet from an obviously fake Twitter handle that impersonates Emir of Kano Muhammad Sanusi II. On December 13, a Twitter handle that goes by @Malsanusilamido tweeted that Boko Haram would soon be defeated. The tweet reads: “I say help is on the way. Terror must and will be defeated.”

The following day, Vanguard had this headline: “Muhammad Sanusi II says help is on the way, Boko Haram will be defeated.” But Vanguard didn’t only publicize the tweet of a transparently fake Twitter handle; it also editorialized the tweet and implied that the emir was hinting at a Buhari presidency as the panacea to Boko Haram. “Sanusi, Nigeria’s second most powerful Islamic leader, was presumably referring to the emergence of former military ruler Muhammadu Buhari as the candidate of the opposition All Progressives Congress in next year’s presidential election,” the story, which has no byline, said.

So many things are wrong with this story. First, the emir of Kano isn’t “Nigeria’s second most powerful Islamic leader.” That distinction belongs to the Shehu of Borno. In Sokoto caliphal hierarchy, the second most powerful monarch after the Sultan of Sokoto is the Emir of Gwandu. No Nigerian journalist can defend ignorance of these basic historical facts. But that’s beside the point.

What’s even more indefensible, I think, is that Vanguard’s reporters and editors don’t know that the emir of Kano has officially disclaimed ownership of any social media account since August this year. Premium Times, Nigeria’s fastest-growing home-based online newspaper, in an August 14, 2014 news story titled “Emir Sanusi disowns facebook, twitter accounts,” quoted a Kano Emirate Council official to have said, among other things, that “a twitter handle in the name of the emir was frequently used to publish libellous statements in Mr. Sanusi’s name.”

Yet Vanguard wrote a news story based on a tweet from this fake Twitter handle. Even if the paper’s editors missed the Premium Times story that says the emir has no social media accounts, which is inexcusable, why wouldn’t the editors ask their correspondents in Kano to confirm with the emirate council if indeed the emir issued a statement on Boko Haram on Twitter? That’s a journalistic no-brainer. 

In any case, it has been known in informed circles in Nigeria for long that several fake social media accounts have been opened in the emir’s name right from the time he was governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. I exposed one such account in my March 30, 2013 column titled “CBN Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi’s Fake Facebook Account.” Thanks to my exposure, the account, which was particularly brazen, has been deleted now, but several new ones have sprung up and are being used to fleece many gullible and credulous Nigerians.

It is apparent that @Malsanusilamido is maintained by the same gang of 419 Internet fraudsters who have mutated from sending unsolicited scam emails to Internet users to cloning the social media accounts of famous people to swindle unsuspecting “mugus.”  A quick survey of the handle’s tweets will reveal this to any discerning person. In fact, in replies to @Malsanusilamido’s tweets, several people have imposed on themselves the task of exposing the Twitter handle as an impersonation. Yet, people who earn a living from skepticism, from fact-checking, verifying, and reporting the news, couldn’t, maybe still can’t, tell that @Malsanusilamido is fake.

But, as I pointed out earlier, this isn’t altogether surprising. Vanguard, in spite of, perhaps because of, its impressive online presence, is going down the toilet. Its news agenda is now set by social media chatter, not by the reportorial work of its reporters and writers. Remember the paper’s infamously false May 10, 2014 cover story titled, “Chibok: American Marines locate abducted girls in Sambisa forest,” which was also lifted from Nigerian social media gossip forums? (Read my May 31, 2014 column titled “Journalism is Dying a Slow Death in Nigeria” for details of this and other embarrassing social-media-induced fabrications by Vanguard and other papers).

Vanguard is in the vanguard of destroying what remains of the credibility of Nigerian journalism. This is disconcerting. If newspapers degenerate to mindless chroniclers of idle gossip on social media why would anybody pay money to read them? Newspapers the world over are grappling with disruptions to their business that have been brought about by the advent of the Internet, but passing off lazy social media chatter as news is one avoidable, self-imposed handicap the Nigerian news media will do well to stop. 

After writing this column, I discovered that the story about Emir Muhammadu Sanusi II’s tweet on Boko Haram isn’t original to Vanguard. It was originally written by AFP, the French news agency, and distributed to its subscribers. But this fact doesn’t change the substance of my observation about Vanguard because it’s the only major Nigerian newspaper that republished the story—as far as my research shows.

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This column has caused the fake Emir of Kano Twitter handle () to be "suspended" by Twitter.

AFP's West Africa Bureau Chief Phil Hazlewood (@philhazlewood) just tweeted this to me: "The story has been retracted. Thanks for your input." When I asked him for a link to the retraction, he tweeted: "It's on the wire to subscribers. Whether they then publish it is up to them."

So let's wait and see if the news organizations that republished the original story will also publish the retraction.


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