2016, a Dictionary
Citizens of Nowhere – in this year of tumultuous change, let’s take another look at that most insidious beast, the language used to distort, manipulate and recreate our reality to suit the purpose of those in pursuit (or defence) of power. We’re not talking about the superb neologisms of the past year: ghosting (the practice of ending a romantic relationship by suddenly breaking off contact with the other person), glunge (combining glamour and grunge), Midult, Creepy Clown, the Glass Wall or the Ham Dog.
Nor are we concerned with the Coupland-style concepts of life/work culture like the Anti-Sabbatical: “A job taken with the sole intention of staying only for a limited period of time (often one year). The intention is usually to raise enough funds to partake in another, more personally meaningful activity such as watercolor sketching in Crete or designing computer knit sweaters in Hong Kong. Employers are rarely informed of intentions” or Bambification: “The mental conversion of flesh-and-blood living creatures into cartoon creatures possessing bourgeois Judeo-Christian attitudes and morals.”
We’re interested in the political phrases slogans and concepts that have ear-wormed their way into our consciousness. Here’s some (let us know what we’ve missed).
Article 50 – something you have to sign but really don’t want to. See also ‘Taking Your Dog to the Vet to get Put Down’.
Drain the Swamp – the Trump cry picked up by the right in Britain and elsewhere, combines an ‘anti-politics’ with an un-selfconscious ability to stuff said swamp with hedge-fund managers and Goldman Sachs executives.
Memo to world: swamps remain noticeably un-drained. Expect mosquito.
False Equivalence – is a logical fallacy where there appears to be equivalence (
See also “On the one hand: one of Britain’s most respected classicists. On the other: Nigel Farage’s sugar daddy.
Millennials – (also known as Generation Y, Generation Me and Echo Boomers) are the demographic cohort following Generation X, frequently derided for being spoilt and apathetic (if tech savvy) – but are also likely to face debt, joblessness and complete exploitation in housing.
Liberals – widely castigated after the Trump election for either voting or not voting, for somehow being (by definition) an ‘elite’ or by not understanding or showing empathy with people displaying ignorance, bigotry or outright racism. Bad liberals.
Now used widely as shorthand for American political functionaries firmly ensconced in political institutions. Think West Wing boxset.
JAMS – popularised by Theresa May who (fleetingly) tried to portray herself as some sort of social liberal. By the end of 2016 ‘Just About Managing’ was a description that could be applied to … just about everyone.
Glasgow Effect– arts project by Ellie Harrison which kicked-off a big political debate about class, art, and Creative Scotland amongst other things.
See Loki here.
And Katie Gallogly-Swan here ‘Cos I Can’.
Trigger Warning – ‘a statement at the start of a piece of writing, video, etc. alerting the reader or viewer to the fact that it contains potentially distressing material.’ This became the central focus of a political battle with critics suggesting a culture was emerging in which perpetual victim-status was attained, defended or contrived in an endless drive to be more scarred and oppressed than anyone else. This culture, it was argued, stopped freedom of speech and locked people into silos of ‘safe’ but stagnant places of non-dialogue. Proponents argued that critics were often masking their own unreconstructed privilege or misogyny and had no lived-experience of the issues at stake.
Post-Truth – the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016 is post-truth – an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’. See also ‘post-truth politics’ – (also called post-factual politics) is a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy, and by the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored. Post-truth differs from traditional contesting and falsifying of truth by rendering it of “secondary” importance. While this has been described as a contemporary problem, there is a possibility that it has long been a part of political life, but was less notable before the advent of the internet. In the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell, cast a world in which the state is daily changing historic records to fit its propaganda goals of the day. Orwell is said to have based much of his criticism of this on Soviet Russian practices.
Wikipedia tells us: “Political commentators have identified post-truth politics as ascendant in Russian, Chinese, American, Australian, British, Indian, Japanese and Turkish politics, as well as in other areas of debate, driven by a combination of the 24-hour news cycle, false balance in news reporting, and the increasing ubiquity of social media.”
Investigatory Powers Bill – described by Edward Snowden as: “the most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy. It goes further than many autocracies.”
The response from Labour: nothing at all.
Sherkaleg – Glaswegian homage to Alyn Smith’s famous ‘cher colleagues’ speech in the European Parliament in the wake of the Brexit vote.
Hyper Normalisation – title of a Adam Curtis documentary from the BBC. The term “hypernormalisation” is taken from Alexei Yurchak‘s 2006 book Everything was Forever, Until it was No More: The Last Soviet Generation, about the paradoxes of life in the Soviet Union during the 20 years before it collapsed. A professor of anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, he argues that everyone knew the system was failing, but as no one could imagine any alternative to the status quo, politicians and citizens were resigned to maintaining a pretence of a functioning society. Over time, this delusion became a self-fulfilling prophecy and the “fakeness” was accepted by everyone as real, an effect which Yurchak termed “hypernormalisation”. It’s a form of considered nihilism in which Curtis argues that since the 1970s, governments, financiers, and technological utopians have given up on the complex “real world” and built a simple “fake world” that is run by corporations and kept stable by politicians.
Nobody’s quite sure if this is brilliant or nonsense, but it’s very well edited and has a great soundtrack, which is more than you can say for Thomas Picketty.
Stokesy’s on Fire (your defence is terrified) – popular ditty from the capital.
Water Protectors – a title taken by protestors to self-describe their actions in Dakota against the crude oil pipeline. See also Stand our Ground.
The Left Behind – a semi-mythological demographic of people who have lost out from globalisation and are now represented by a billionaire with gold taps. See also Cleptocracy.
Civilian corridors – supposed channels of safety for people living in eastern Aleppo.
Post-Geography – this ones down to the genius that is Liam Fox. In September Fox announced: “The UK has a “golden opportunity” to forge a new role in a “post-geography trading world”, in a speech extolling the benefits of Britain leaving the EU. Delusional.
Brexit means Brexit – meaningless drivel repeated by senior Leave politicians in lieu of anything to say.
Fake News – apparently this is new. * It’s not really.
Virtue Signalling – ‘just posting some photos of my stint at the Food Bank’. Often used by people who don’t want to talk about something to deride people who are challenging the new right.
Info Wars – nuttiest of the nuttiest blogs by Alex Jones – splenatic host of a million conspiracy theories. Chemtrails enthusiast. Over-emotional. See also False Flag.
Cleptocracy – “It’s not clear how much Mr. Trump’s businesses would benefit from his proposal to cut business tax rates.” More here.
Alt Right – a technical term claimed by Breitbart and Steve Bannon, often used as a polite euphemism for neo-fascist politics.
Black Lives Matter – the hashtag of a movement against police brutality in America: “#BlackLivesMatter was created in 2012 after Trayvon Martin’s murderer, George Zimmerman, was acquitted for his crime, and dead 17-year old Trayvon was posthumously placed on trial for his own murder. Rooted in the experiences of Black people in this country who actively resist our dehumanization, #BlackLivesMatter is a call to action and a response to the virulent anti-Black racism that permeates our society.Black Lives Matter is a unique contribution that goes beyond extrajudicial killings of Black people by police and vigilantes.”
Remoaners – the nickname for people appalled that their country has been seized by liars propagandists and racists.
Take Back Control – the rallying cry for those railing against the BurEUcrats (geddit). See also ‘Left Behind’ and ‘gold taps’.
False Flag – default position of right-wing conspiracy nuts when something they don’t like happens. The term describes covert operations that are designed to deceive in such a way that the operations appear as though they are being carried out by entities, groups, or nations other than those who actually planned and executed them. The list of events covered under this idea is too embarrassing to lost here. See also ‘Get In the Sea’.
Get in the Sea – people or ideas who need to get to fuck. Nominations include “everything from 2016”. Useful definition from “Get in the sea!” is meant to imply not only do the subject’s genetics not meet the standard of the species but they are not fit for this stage of evolution, and are quite likely a clingy bit of the primordial slime from whence Homo Sapiens emerged and should return to their native environment post haste.”
Twistorian – someone talking BS on twitter. See Post-Truth and Mary Beard vs Aaron Banks for many LOLs
Make America Great Again – good luck with that.
See also, Drain the Swamp and Cleptocracy.