Wed | Jan 23, 2019

Word of the Year

Published:Sunday | November 30, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Daniel Thwaites, Contributor

Last year's Oxford English Dictionary's (OED) Word of the Year was the inspired 'selfie'. The choice perfectly captured a widespread activity (recall that even Mr Obama was part of a selfie at Nelson Mandela's funeral) but also the epidemic of obsessive self-glorification at the heart of much social media.

The word has gone on to have an illustrious career and shows no signs of flagging. It has even generated a glorious little sister called the 'belfie', a portmanteau of 'butt' and 'selfie'. You get the picture? Well, if you don't, you need better friends. Butt seriously: Who knew that telephone liberalisation would have such a harsh impact on our collective morals?

Selfie, you may recall, had defeated 'twerk', the dancehall move that took America by storm, but which had long been practised in Jamaica. When perfected, each buttock cheek is leveraged as an independent entity worthy of recognition and respect, and capable of autonomous self-directed action.

Mind you, we called it something different, but I have proof it began here, with vast footage of enthusiastic brukkin' out by emerging superstars consequent to a video light shining. It's just twerkin, twerkin, twerkin.

This year OED's uninspired choice is 'Vape (v.): to inhale and exhale the vapour produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device'. The word has been around for a while, but the dictionary sometimes chooses an older word that has been languishing from neglect as if it suddenly gains currency.

I know Vape as a thing to kill mosquitoes, and at least in my small corner of the English-speaking universe, the word is very current and in heavy use because of this incurable fowl clap, chik-V. But old vaping was about smoking out insects, while new vaping is about smoking out your brains. Ahhh. Progress.

Turns out the 'vape' I knew is just a brand name, and that was causing the confusion. It's not the first time this has happened to me. I was shocked, and slightly let down at various points in my life, to find out about newspapers not named Gleaner, petroleum jelly that's not Vaseline, chocolate drinks that aren't Milo, and politicians not named Manley or Seaga.

I could go on. A radio presenter not named Fae Ellington? Yuh mad? A TV station not named JBC? Get outa here! Choice and variety are sorely overrated, but that's a separate topic I'll get back to one day. Curse you, confusing world!

Anyway, vaping is supposedly not as habit-forming and dangerous as traditional smoking, allowing, I realised, for flexi-vape. So 'yuh waan flexi-vape'? is a legitimate question, though it may require a 'mansplanation' afterwards. To 'mansplain' is to offer a testosterone-fuelled condescendingly inaccurate explanation, typically by a man to a woman. I fear I've been guilty of it, maybe once or twice. What? OK. Maybe it's my whole shtick. Maybe.


But I'm not alone. To illustrate, the whole country witnessed some major mansplanation when Audley used the DBJ write-off decision for Outameni as an accusatory sword without knowing, or neglecting to mention, that the decision dated to when he was finance minister. That's some high-level mansplaining right there.

Another strong candidate was 'budtender', meaning the friendly dispenser of marijuana in places wise enough to legalise it. Just recently, news broke that the Marley franchise will brand a herb with no guarantee that it will come from Jamaica. So the friendly neighbourhood budtender will serve up a Marley, but the natural mystic will arrive from somewhere else. Not cool. If Jamaica misses the opportunity to produce 'Marley weed', we may as well lock up shop.

Anyway, like most 'slacktivists', I want marijuana legalised. 'Slacktivists' needs no further mansplanation besides pointing to their couch, computers, and Twitter or FB accounts. It's who Chairman-for-Life calls the 'articulate minority'. But I feel there's something vaguely immoral about supporting the sale of something I've never seen do good for anyone. However, in my own defence, I don't want all things that I consider inadvisable to be illegal. That would pretty quickly suck all the joy and variety out of life.

Interestingly, the word 'hangry' was also in the running. This smashing together of 'hungry' and 'angry', although new to the wider world, has had a long shelf life here courtesy of Bounty Killer. Think "Crawse! Hangry! Mizzarebel!" Again, English is just catching up.

Also, for those yearning for historical justice, another coinage gaining ground is 'columbusing', meaning the art of discovering something that isn't at all new. Well, 'hangry' was columbused from Bounty, just like 'twerking' was columbused from the stripper, housewives and teenagers that have been performing it for decades. Anyway, as far as I'm concerned, Mr Rodney Price has hit the OED and I hope they give him credit.

So what's the Jamaican word or short phrase for 2014? 'Austerity', 'two likkle lizard', 'chop him up fine-fine', 'chik-V', 'confirmed cases', 'flexi-rape', 'Outameni'? Personally, I'm rooting for 'turnt', the shortened version of 'turned up'. It's a word of amazing plasticity, generally meaning 'hyped, awesome, magnificent, and tending to maximum swag'.

As an aside, I'm mindful of The Gleaner's excellent editorial last Tuesday, titled 'It may be time to horse-trade on the CCJ', addressing the Opposition's objections to the court and hinting at the absurdity of promoting the Privy Council as 'free' when it is extraordinarily expensive and, therefore, inaccessible. "And we want to tek we self from that," said Holness, meaning the 'free' Privy Council.

No offence, but even pardoning the mangling of 'tek weh yuhself' - that splendid Jamaican dismissal that ought to have taken the title in 2010 - let's hope Mr Holness was just trying to make his conference speech turnt, and wasn't mansplaining a position impervious to evidence and debate.

Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to