2016, a Dictionary

clown-scary-uk-311857Citizens 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 (usually in quantity and quality of evidence) between two opposing arguments. Examples “We hear tonight from Professor Johnson who’s spent forty years studying climate and published eleven peer-reviewed books, and … Christopher Monckton”. Or qua Call Kaye: “We hear today from anti and pro rape advocates”. False equivalence confuses ‘bias’ with ‘balance’ often exacerbated by under-funded journalism and unthinking post-ideological value-free individuals. See The New York Times’s false equivalence problem.

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’.

cxuzs74weaak5_lTrigger 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.

The response from everybody wailing about the Named Person Bill: nothing at all.

Funny that.

Sherkaleg – Glaswegian homage to Alyn Smith’s famous ‘cher colleagues’ speech in the European Parliament in the wake of the Brexit vote.

maxresdefaultHyper 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,[5] 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.

gallery-1462816039-donald-trump-1Cleptocracy – “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 Captain Smirk: Champion of Snark: “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.


Bella’s Review of the Year is on Wed December 21 at the Melting Pot in Edinburgh.

Comments (17)

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  1. Patrick says:

    2016, a Dictionary, the best description of Generation (D and VK), we name this example of des mistify of a terminology.
    (D) Dementia
    (VK) Old Kaga liters from the Spanish art = Eat shits

    Excellent !

  2. Alberajudge says:

    I very much doubt anyone read this article from first line till last..we wer bored shitless by paragraph 2…not because we could not understand it..we could not enjoy the humourless yawn left diatribe that as become the expected of the perceived victim alas I feel you have wasted a few more moments of your short life as alas have I responding ..wait a minute I’ve had a Wee bit too much Buckie!!ive just read that us jocks have dropped 20 places in schools tables since we got devolution!!ya beauty easy easy!!in a game of snakes n ladders we are going the wrong way…roll on independence when our children will be unable to count to ten…except in leith of course wer the extra toes through inbreeding will help those children..watch this space…trump will rock up in jock land soon…and who will be bending over backwards to accommodate his ego…yes first minister brace yerself!!heres a new word for ya…2faceistism coming soon in a dire Scottish town..,shit this Buckie’s good!!why is this not our national drink??

    1. scrandoonyeah says:

      gone fishing….d

    2. John Page says:

      The obvious self hatred here gives the impression that this is another manifestation of Corporatist Hell…..we should be told
      John Page

  3. Alan says:

    Post-Truth….While this has been described as a contemporary problem, there is a possibility that it has long been a part of political life…

    Post-truth is itself a bit of newspeak. It’s the sort of obfuscating term that Orwell would probably have disliked. What’s wrong with the terms propaganda and disinformation? These have been around for forever but have become particularly significant in the age of mass media (see Bernays’ 1928 book on Propaganda). The assertion that it is a contemporary phenomenon is obfuscation if by this it is meant the last few years or even couple of decades.

    The context of the current disinformation is important. A key component of neoliberalism is frustrating any sort of planning in order to enable, supposedly, the market to function. Under neoliberalism the market is the source of veridiction (for a short account see here). If you accept this, then it’s quite legitimate to frustrate any type of planning and regulation to, for example, limit climate change. It’s not that that those attempting to undermine climate change science necessarily doubt the science but they need to undermine the public legitimacy of the science in order to frustrate any planning or regulation to limit climate change, because, for them, the only legitimate response to global warming involves market or market-type responses. Insane? Yes. Their understanding of human behaviour and organization is ludicrous. It lacks empirical support and is riven with contradictions.

    For histories of the modern anti-science start with the public health wars related to smoking and cancer prevention in the 1950s. See for example: Agnotology: The Making and Unmaking of Ignorance and Merchants of Doubt.

  4. Alf Baird says:

    ‘Sherkaleg’ Mike, braw speirins fer auld(ish) duffers lyke masel, cheers. Brocht me up tae speed on whits het an whits net (as thay micht se in Morningside.

  5. Black Rab says:

    Stokesy’s on fire….ha ha ha. I had him on for a hat trick that day and I thought he scored wi that third and headed goal for the Hibee’s.

  6. Kenny says:

    Social Justice Warriors (SJWs) – a ubiquitous and handy label favoured by Trump/UKIP types to describe normal people i.e. anyone who challenges rabid right wing racists, misogynists and climate change deniers.

    Yoonatic – term of endearment used by a small but loud number of *ahem* enthusiastic yessers who spend an unhealthy amount of time online (SAOR ALBA!)

  7. James Mills says:

    FYI : ”Review of the year , Wednesday 12 December ” ? I know this is a post truth era but does it affect the calendar as well ?

  8. manandboy says:

    The Symphony of Politico Lie-Speak has long since begun, to wide acclaim. Through absorption, much of the Human race has already become a little unhinged and more than a little unstable. Intellect has been evicted and every space is now occupied by emotion in turmoil. Greedfear rules over all. Yet Truth stands guard, albeit at a distance, lest it too becomes overwhelmed by the infantry of misinformation and be bundled into the darkness where The Lie sits enthroned in its constantly televised court.

  9. Redgauntlet says:

    This is the thing, they have the power, they can create terms and neologisms and reshape the world.

    My opinion is that Brexit would probably not have happened if the English press had not coined the term Brexit in the first place. To talk of “Brexit”, as we all started doing very quickly, was already to be half way there.

    Similarly, the surge in bond rates in the south of Europe was preceded by a press campaign denouncing the economic woes of the PIGS (Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain)….of course bond yields were going to start sky rocketing.

    The SNP have not come up with a term for Scotland remaining in the EU, or in the single market even, or using Brexit as springboard to indie. In fact, we really haven’t come up with much in terms of a counter language. Which is what we need on the Left in general and for indie Scotland in particular.

    Whoever controls the language, controls reality

    Good piece Mike.

    1. Alf Baird says:

      Scotland’s options seem to be either accept Hard-Brexit, or take Hard-Indy.

  10. DR Cameron says:

    Good fun piece . More serious than it looks at first pass.

  11. tartanfever says:

    ‘White helmets’ – c’mon I wasn’t the only one that sniggered.

    Turns out it was the new name for Western funded terrorists posing as ‘humanitarian aid’

    Who knew ?

  12. old battle says:

    ‘Pasofikation’ found it in article by James Doran? Illustrating the rapid decline of the post-war social democrat/labourist movement across Europe and highlighted in Scotland. Essentially describing the collapse of Pasok in Greece (down from 38% to 6%) in a decade squeezed between the new left and the new right. ( A trend that saw labour falling to fourth place in the recent by-election in Lincolnshire.

  13. Mathew says:

    How about Post-HyperNormalisation – the point at which it simply becomes impossible to normalise a situation. Such as when Scott Pruitt becomes head of the EPA or Rex Tillerson (possibly next week) becomes Secretary of State.
    The Trump agenda for the next four years is now quite clear – drive the planet as hard and as fast to Environmental collapse as possible.

  14. florian albert says:

    ‘Trayvon Martin’s murderer, George Zimmerman, was acquitted for his crime’

    It is astonishing to read this statement in an article about the misuse of language.

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