Thursday, July 02, 2009

Brave new word

Have you ever been hit by a word that looks like it’s perfectly good English until you realise you don’t understand it? That happened to me the other day. I was surfing Cadrona snowfields high above Wanaka, my old hometown in New Zealand, when I came across this vivid report. An excerpt:

“The NZ Uni snow games was awesome fun. The results were wicked and the peeps and good times rocked harder and bigger than ever! The boardercross was in sweet shape and in the finals a wipe out lost my win and in the big air I stomped a sweet indy grab over the big table at Cadrona so I was stoked I even hit it, and then a shifty back one on the smaller table which I butt checked…but it felt mean. The pipe was super slushy but I was getting lofty on it and it was wicked to ride a pipe again!”

Peeps? Stomp a sweet indy grab? Butt checked? I can guess what the last one means (ouch) but the other terms go beyond me. Okay, it’s snow sport slang, and since I don’t belong to the in-group of crossboarders and their fans no one would expect me to understand it. It’s like the arcane jargonology philosphers use to exclude ‘the amateur riff-raff’, in the view of the former professor of cognitive psychology Steven Lehar.

Insider talk keeps outsiders out. But not me, or not for long if I can help it. I love brave new words to discover, and old words too, like the opposite of gazumping, which I tottered across while reading Country Life. My passion for seeking the source of the strange makes me fond of Wordnik, devoted to discovering ‘words and everything about them’. Wordnik gives real-time examples, like this gem from ozzieCousins on Twitter. “Twaddle is my word for today. It means: to tweet in the manner of a duck walking.”

Wordnik now contains more than 1.7 million words and 130 million examples, but alas, nothing on gazundering or, funnily enough, wordnik. To be fair, it does invite you to add new words and lawd-a-mercy on us language professionals, it lets you report a typo.

Reminds me of something else of interest to language pro’s: "Copy Editor's Revenge Takes Form Of Unhyphenated Word". Seduced by the revenge bit (if only), I clicked on the link before realising the headline belonged to a lofty story in The Onion. If you don’t already know it, this site is super slushy wicked!

That leads me to the stonkingly wicked comedian Catherine Tate and her Helen I-can-do-that Marsh translating CEO-speak in national stereotypes. Hilarious Hells will forgive you for thinking she’s talking English, albeit offensive English, throughout. Whatever. Is she bovver’d? Not!

Brave new exit
You know what? Aldous Huxley didn't make up Brave New World for the title of his book. He nicked the line from Shakespeare, that’s what, along with a Fordist factory full of sundry other quotes. Waaaaay back in 1978, I worked on The Tempest at the Sydney Opera House. The show was directed by Ted Craig, and it had Michael Craig (no relation?) as Prospero and Barry Otto in the cast.

These thespians are all still enjoying the juicy fruits of their careers. Even my fellow assistant stage manager, Nick Schlieper, went on to make an international name for himself as überkreativ lighting designer and winner of countless awards. He’s lighting up London’s West End at the moment with the fabulous Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

Crikey! All this lovey talk makes me wonder how my life might have turned out, had I not had an attack of the Ethels (as in la Merman belting Anything you can do, I can do better) upon hearing that my ex-lover was heading for the louche lights of London. I might have stayed on in the theatre and become a Famous Director (sigh) but then the world would have been a language professional poorer and ye gads that’s enough blagging for one week. Let me really leave you now with a bonus vid on Priscilla’s brave new entrance to Auckland. It also gives you a game idea of what an assistant stage manager does. Enjoy, and see you next week!


  1. This was my first time visiting your blog, but I love your writing style. That and I share your fascination with words. Words to me are like notes in music. Just any old note won't do, it has to be the perfect one. Sometimes getting the perfect note requires learning a new one, hence the beauty of learning a new word.

    Sam Palmer

    Blog: Written In Gray
    Blog: The Shadow Inscription

  2. Dear Sam,

    Gosh, you do know how to make a blagger blush, don't you! Glad to hear my style hits the right note. Thanks for the compliment and come back again soon.

    ~ragini werner