Words of Watergate: Part 2

gateBy Hugh Rawson

President Richard M. Nixon and his men – and all his aides were men back in the benighted 1970s – leaned heavily on harmless-sounding, euphemistic language in order to obscure, if not conceal completely, the criminal activities that formed the Watergate scandal. Examples include caper, house cleaning, plumber, and others noted in last month’s post.

Some of Mr. Nixon’s aides could turn vivid phrases, however. The most talented of these was John D. Ehrlichman, the president’s chief domestic affairs adviser, who blossomed as a novelist after being sentenced to jail for his role in Watergate. It was Ehrlichman who suggested to John W. Dean III, the president’s counsel, that he deep-six the phone-tapping equipment that had been found in the office safe of E. Howard Hunt, Jr., a White House plumber (officially a “consultant”) implicated in the Watergate break-in. Deep-six is sailor’s slang for tossing something overboard into water at least six fathoms (thirty-six feet) deep. Dean wasn’t familiar with the expression, however. As he testified to the Senate committee that investigated Watergate:

“I asked him what he meant by ‘deep six.’ He leaned back in his chair and said: ‘You drive across the [Potomac] river at night, don’t you? Well, when you cross over the river on your way home, just toss the briefcase into the river.’” Continue reading “Words of Watergate: Part 2”

Romneyshambles and Vatileaks: variations on a theme

speech bubblesby Liz Walter

As my colleague Paul Heacock mentioned in his blog , the word omnishambles was one of the runaway successes of 2012. Coined in 2009 for the political comedy ‘The Thick of It’, it came to prominence last year when the leader of the UK’s opposition Labour Party used it to criticize the government’s April budget. The resulting soundbite hit the airwaves, and Labour MPs lined up to re-use the potent word as often as possible in order to hammer it into the public’s consciousness.

The ability of a new term to express a feeling so perfectly and with an element of humour is a major factor in its success. An added bonus of this particular word is that it is easily adaptable. So, for instance, when Mitt Romney visited London in July, it was not long before his series of gaffes, including less than tactful comments on Britain’s ability to host the Olympics, was dubbed the Romneyshambles. Continue reading “Romneyshambles and Vatileaks: variations on a theme”

A bite to eat

toastby Kate Woodford

With Christmas Day just a week away, many of us are now planning and shopping for the many meals that we will share with family and friends during the holiday season. With food in mind, we’re going to take a look at the words that we use to describe different types of meals and the occasions on which those meals are eaten.

Your main meal is the biggest meal of the day, whenever that is eaten. Meals generally are described as big, (I had a really big breakfast.) or light (I usually have a fairly light lunch – a sandwich or something.). A small amount of food that you eat between meals is often called a snack. ‘Snack’ is also used as a verb: Try to stop your children snacking between meals. / Snack on dried fruit instead of crisps and chocolate. The verb graze is also used to mean ‘to eat small amounts frequently’: Isabel doesn’t really eat proper meals – she just grazes all day. A bite or a bite to eat is a light meal, especially one that you eat quickly: We could grab a bite in town before we go to the cinema. / Do we have time to get a bite to eat? Continue reading “A bite to eat”

The words of 2012

by Paul Heacock

As the year winds to a close, it is once again time for the staff and contributors to Cambridge Dictionaries Online and its blog, About Words, to sort through the year gone by and highlight the words and phrases that rose to prominence. In one way or another, all of these strike us as emblematic of 2012.

The new year brought some typical words to the fore, with resolution and prosperous making meteoric jumps in the number of searches for each. But many of our visitors must have had a romantic start to the year, because cuddle also became a very popular word to look up.

The second month of 2012 brought a more sober frame of mind, with words like bailout, hostile, grim and fail all getting huge upticks in searches on CDO.

In April, the phrasal verb give up made a sudden appearance at the top of our most-searched-for list. It was the only top 50 appearance for the term all year, and seems odd coming in springtime. Perhaps the searches were in reference to the financial turmoil, or to the tradition of giving up something for Lent, or to news reports in the US that month showing what people were willing to give up in order to have access to the Internet. Continue reading “The words of 2012”

Red State Blue State

By Hugh Rawson

Now that the national political conventions are over, and the candidates of the two major parties officially selected, the interminable campaign for the American presidency is heading into the home stretch, where all eyes are focused on election maps composed of red states, meaning basically Republican states, and blue states, referring to Democratic ones.

The firm association of red with Republican and blue with Democratic is comparatively new in American politics, dating only to the election of 2000. Previously, different publications and TV stations used different color schemes on election maps. Yellow and green were sometimes employed, while red and blue often had opposite meanings from today. For example, in 1980, TV newsman David Brinkley described the many blue-colored states on a map that portrayed Republican Ronald Reagan’s overwhelming victory as “beginning to look like a suburban swimming pool.”  And in 1992, anticipating Democrat Bill Clinton’s triumph over Republican George H. W. Bush, a Boston Globe columnist wrote: “But when the anchormen turn to their electronic tote boards and the red states for Clinton start swamping the blue states for Bush, this will be a strange night for me.” Continue reading “Red State Blue State”

The spread of textspeak into general language.

by Liz Walter

Critics of the UK prime minister were gloating recently when it emerged that he had ended a text to a prominent newspaper editor with LOL, believing it to mean ‘lots of love’. Here, they claimed, was one more example of how out of touch David Cameron is. LOL, as anyone with their finger on the pulse surely knows, stands for ‘laugh(ing) out loud’ and is used to indicate that something is amusing.

Were Mr Cameron’s children slightly older, he would almost certainly not have made the mistake. As the mother of teenagers, I am quite accustomed to my witticisms being met by a sarcastic version of this acronym. However, my offspring’s response comes not via text messages, but as a part of their everyday spoken vocabulary, and pronounced not as individual letters, but as a single word. Continue reading “The spread of textspeak into general language.”

London 2012: the games

by Liz Walter

And they’re off! From athletics to equestrianism, sailing to cycling, boxing to swimming, the drama unfolds as records are smashed, medals are awarded, and over 10,000 of the world’s greatest athletes push themselves to feats unimaginable to ordinary mortals.

Perhaps the most eagerly awaited event of all was the men’s 100m race – who would be the fastest man in the world? The crowded stadium fell silent to watch the thrilling race. Relatively slow out of the blocks, Jamaica’s Usain Bolt powered through the field and demolished his rivals to set a new Olympic record and confirm his place as the greatest sprinter in history. Continue reading “London 2012: the games”

The Triumph of the Long Jump

By Hugh Rawson

One of the classic track and field events in the Olympic Games is the long jump, but this is a relatively new name for what used to be known as the broad jump.  The name change was made in the 1960s, and had nothing to do with the nature of the athletic feat itself. This was strictly a case of political correctness. To begin at the beginning:

The first modern Olympics, held in Athens in 1896, included a standing broad jump and a running broad jump. (They also featured a standing high jump as opposed to a running high jump. The standing versions of both events were dropped from the Games after the fourth Olympiad in 1912.) Back then almost everyone in the English-speaking world would have described a running jump of this sort as being broad, not long. For example, reporting on an international, intercollegiate track meet in 1895 between Oxford and Yale universities, a British publication, Outing, An Illustrated Monthly Magazine of Recreation, summed up Oxford’s victory, saying, “Oxford won all the runs, the high hurdle, and tied in the high jump with Yale, losing only the weights and the broad jump.” Continue reading “The Triumph of the Long Jump”

Mind your p’s and q’s

By Trevor Bryden

What does the phrase mind your p’s and q’s mean and where does it come from? Trevor Bryden’s latest cartoon illustrates the origin of this phrase.

Continue reading “Mind your p’s and q’s”

Skorts or treggings? Decide what to wear this year with our look at new words in fashion.

by Liz Walter

Over the last year or so, two women have probably generated more column inches than any others on the subject of their clothes, and they could hardly be more different in style. On the one hand, we have Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, wife of Prince William, who, depending on your viewpoint, is either wonderfully elegant and demure, or dull and too traditional in her mix of designer labels and high street dresses. On the other is Lady Gaga, to whom the words demure or traditional could never be applied.

But what about the rest of us? Where has fashion taken us recently, and – more importantly for this blog – what new words has it given us? One definite trend has been for shorts, no longer reserved for the beach, but worn all year round in various forms. City shorts are smart and tailored, while cocktail shorts are glamorous enough to replace the little black dress at evening parties. Skorts can be worn for fun or for sport, and comprise a short skirt with an integral pair of shorts. For the young, Daisy Dukes and batty riders are extremely short shorts which allow the bottom curve of the buttocks to be seen, and girlfriend shorts have the inside of their back pockets hanging down below the hem. Continue reading “Skorts or treggings? Decide what to wear this year with our look at new words in fashion.”