Whole People

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Synecdochically Speaking … and Word of the Year 2016


Synecdochically… what a great sounding word!

You might not know what it means – and before watching lexicographer Erin McKean’s highly entertaining TED talk I’d never even heard of it.

magnifying-glass-390913_640McKean discusses the future of dictionaries in the age of the internet – which might sound dry but her presentation certainly isn’t – it’s full of life and humour and easy to understand.

She talks about the way in which dictionaries have been compiled and how we’ve used them:

How we’ve accidentally stumbled upon interesting new words while we’ve been looking for something else (serendipity).

How we can let artificial constraints get in the way – her example of the “ham butt problem” reminds me of the psychology of unwritten rules and the ‘five monkeys experiment’.

Her description of the internet as “made up of words and enthusiasm” made me smile and, like her, I’m interested in the words we use, how language develops over time and how new words are invented.

Relatively recent additions to the English language include ‘binge-watch’, ‘photobomb’ and ‘glamping’ and each year Oxford Dictionaries chooses a word that captures the current mood, the zeitgeist.

In 2013, it was ‘selfie’. In 2014, it was ‘vape’ and in 2015 it was an emoji: Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 15.11.57.png (‘Face with Tears of Joy’).

This year, however, it’s something rather less cheerful: post-truth”. 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”. 

The Oxford Dictionaries website explains the context and rationale for this choice which has been used frequently this year to describe the political landscape – in the UK and US, particularly…

Finally, for those who would like to know the definition of ‘synecdochically’, here goes (from a synecdoche is a figure of speech where:

“part is put for the whole (as fifty sail for fifty ships), the whole for a part (as society for high society), the species for the genus (as cutthroat for assassin), the genus for the species (as a creature for a man), or the name of the material for the thing made (as boards for stage)”

The adjective is ‘synecdochic’ or ‘synecdochical’, and the adverb is ‘synecdochically’.

Enjoy the video:


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