The dictionary of our divided age,
as language becomes a battlefield
The practice of investigating the social media history of individuals to search for offensive or embarrassing statements that may have been made in the past.
ANTIFA. Organisation, movement. American anti-fascist political movement, characterised by direct action and confrontation with perceived fascists, built on a reading of anti-fascist activity in the publication, Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook.
All Lives Matter. Organisation, protest. A counter campaigning term pushing back on the principles of Black Lives Matter.
Alt-right. Term, movement. An umbrella description for far-right political activism that originated in the 2010s in the US with a very energetic online presence.
Bait and Switch. Term. Originally a sales tactic to lure customers with specific claims about the quality or low prices of items that then turn out to be unavailable, to upsell to similar, pricier items. In politics, legislation and proposals that suggest minor changes with simplistic titles (the bait) are then introduced into the legislative process to substantially change the wording of such proposed legislation (the switch) at a later date in an attempt to smooth the passage of a controversial or significant proposal. “Look into my eyes, not around my eyes”, etc.
Big Media. Term. Used to describe dominant print and online publishers and network broadcasters in the age of falling consumer confidence in such outlets. See the New York Times.
Biological Essentialism. Term. The proposition that human nature, personality, or other specific quality (intelligence, sexuality, etc.) is innate and natural rather than a construct derived from circumstances, upbringing, and culture. The term is also often used similarly with biological determinism.
Birthstrike. Term, movement. "Birthstrikers" or "birth strikers" (take your pick) define themselves as being part of a movement of women who have decided not to procreate in response to what they argue is an approaching climate collapse. Associated with "climate-conscious circles", Extinction Rebellion (inevitably) and US Democrat and activist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the Birthstrikers movement was formalised as a group (BirthStrike) by political activist Blythe Pepino. Popular in the UK.
Blackface. Term. Used to describe white performers donning make-up to "black-up" for a performance to take on the exaggerated persona of a black person for comic or entertaining effect. Once funny for some people, now not so much.
(The) Blob. Term. Not the movie. Attributed to Conservative politician Michael Gove, “the blob” refers to a powerful institutional body that is resistant to change (in Gove’s case, the educational establishment at the time that he was Education Secretary).
Brexit. Term, movement. The campaign for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union encapsulated in one catchy slogan. See Mexit.
(The) Big Sulk (La Grande Boude). Term. A phrase originated by Julie Burchill used to describe those who refused to accept the result of the 2016 UK Brexit referendum and who have refused to engage with its outcome in any constructive way.
Box Ticking. Term. A characterisation of superficial, bureaucratic and ineffective working processes and management which, in the era of the culture wars, has come to also encompass political and cultural conformism.
Butterfly Effect. Term. Rooted in chaos theory, the Butterfly Effect suggests a sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state. Or, to put it another way, a seemingly meaningless action in one time and place can cause effects that have a bigger consequence in another. Associated with the work of mathematician and meteorologist Edward Lorenz, the idea that small causes may have large effects on the weather was earlier recognised by French mathematician and engineer Henri Poincaré. The concept has since been used outside of weather science as a broad term for any situation where a small change is supposed to be the cause of larger consequences.
Cancellation. Term. Currently fashionable, certainly in cultural-political terms, cancellation refers to when something or someone is referred to as cancelled, which in its simplest terms means that something or someone is no longer publicly supported, by some. A form of censorship, cancellation has a particular significance in the era of 24-hour electronic media and, of course, the internet.
Cancel Storm. Term. Used to describe the sudden whipping up of controversy and associated demands for a person or entity to be cancelled due to offence apparently caused by said partly. Such a storm of controversy can drive a news cycle and be energised by social media platforms (particularly Twitter and Facebook). A pre-modern era example of a cancel storm was for New Coke to be abandoned in 1985 (which it was, with the previous version of Coke, brought back by the Coca-Cola Company within three months, following sustained consumer pressure for this outcome).
Chestfeeding. Term. In the context of the current culture wars, chestfeeding (or bodyfeeding) is suggested to refer to feeding milk to a baby directly from the body. This term is used by some non-binary or trans individuals who do not identify their chest anatomy with the term "breast."
Climate Change Denier. Term. A person who rejects the proposition that climate change, as caused by human activity, is occurring and/or is dangerous. In the highly-charged atmosphere of environmental politics, it is a criticism with censorious overtones (as opposed to the term "climate change critic" for example).
Climate Emergency. Term. movement. A campaigning slogan that replaced "global warming", which in turn was replaced by "climate change". "Climate emergency" injects a heightened sense of urgency and emotion into the debate and also suggested a lowering horizon for environmental interventions.
Climate Heating. Term. The campaigning slogan that mutated from "global emergency" and which injects a further heightened sense of urgency and alarm into the environmental debate.
Clouds In My Coffee. Lyric. Taken from the 1972 Carly Simon pop hit, You’re So Vain, and like the song itself, entirely open to interpretation on the part of the listener. Over the years these interpretations have included visual observation of frothy milk in a cappuccino representing dreams of love which can quickly be revealed as nothing. An alternative claim (by Simon herself) is that the line came "from an airplane flight that I took with Billy Mernit, who was my friend and piano player at the time. As I got my coffee, there were clouds outside the window of the airplane and you could see the reflection in the cup of coffee. Billy said to me, 'Look at the clouds in your coffee'."
Cry-bully. Term. Originated by Julie Burchill and used to describe the easily and energetically offended who can react with vigour to such perceived offence. See Snowflake.
Compassion Olympics. Term. Attributed to the great Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson and referring to competition, especially on the political centre-right, to appear as caring as possible, particularly about social policy, to win public support.
Covid Chasers. Term. Bitchy and ironic phrase originating in London used to describe those people who fervently follow governmental instructions regarding restrictions and behaviours and who signal their disapproval of others who appear not to do so.
Culture War. Term. The conflict of opposing social groups over cultural issues with a focus on polarising values and beliefs. Particularly prominent in the US and growing worldwide.
Curriculum Decolonisation. Term. Decolonising the curriculum is characterised as an attempt to be more accurate, inclusive and interculturally responsive, particularly with regard to historical events in educational contexts. Critics suggest it opens historical accuracy to constant (re)interpretation and ideological manipulation, while creating conflict and division.
Curse of Twitter. Term. The ability of the Twitter social media platform to adversely affect or damage reputations and professional careers after forgotten or old tweets resurface years later to embarrass the person who wrote them. Attributed by some to the compressed messaging the Twitter character limit imposes, as well as the early use of the platform by people before they fully understood the long-term implications of what they may tweet (when drunk) years later, the Curse of Twitter has taken down many celebrities and public and not so public figures over the years, the most recent being British cricketer, Ollie Robinson.
Defund. Term, movement(s). A political campaign to cut funding to a criticised or controversial entity to halt or reduce its activity or impact. De-fund the BBC, De-fund the police, etc.
Deep State. Term. A body of people, usually identified as being members of the government, security services or military, believed to be involved in clandestine manipulation or control of government and policy. Popular as a critical term by US President Trump and his fellow travellers.
Deradicalisation. Term. A process of encouraging a person with what are considered to be extreme political, social or religious views to adopt more moderate positions on the issues. According to Renee Garfinkel PhD, a psychologist, television commentator and podcast host, personal relationships play a major role in the transformation of involvement in violence to non-violent activity. Renee argues that "change often hinges on a relationship with a mentor or friend who supports and affirms peaceful behaviour".
DILF. Term. For some reason slightly less rude than MILF (see below), but essentially the same thing, as applied to men of a certain age (particularly popular slang as used by male homosexuals).
Digital Thunderdome. Term. Attributed to (former) New York Times opinion editor Bari Weiss and taken from her open resignation letter after leaving the publication in July 2020. Essentially refers to Twitter, its increasing power and the dominating influence outside of the platform by its supposedly very active Woke members. Disintegrationism. Term. Attributed to American Conservative political activist and author Ben Shapiro. In Shapiro's analysis "disintegrationism" characterises the rejection of US history and principles by the radical Left, as characterised by Shapiro in cancel culture and its attempt to divide American society.
Doom Porn. Term. From Allison Pearson and Liam Halligan’s Telegraph Planet Normal podcast. Refers to the heated media presentation of worrying and frightening Covid-19 news stories sensationally presented to unhealthily provoked viewers, listeners or readers to fanatically consume such stories in an obsessive and unhealthy manner.
Echo Chamber. Term. Used to describe media and social media platforms that have a specific political or cultural following or membership, and where authors, activists and members share similar views and passions as if with others outside their immediate group.
Establishment. Term. Refers to businesses, organisations, public institutions or bodies. It is also a term used to describe a dominant group or elite, a closed social group that selects its members, or entrenched élite structures in specific institutions. One can refer to any relatively small class or group of people that can exercise control as “The Establishment”. The term in its modern sense was originally popularised by the British journalist Henry Fairlie in 1955, after which it was quickly picked up by newspapers and magazines around the world.
Filter Bubble. Term. Coined by internet activist Eli Pariser and describing a sense of intellectual isolation, particularly enabled by the power of the internet and its ability to filter content.
Furlough. Term, public policy. Indicating the process where an employee agrees to stop work temporarily but remain employed, perhaps with reduced salary income during this period.
Gaslighting. Term. To describe someone deliberately confusing an opponent so that he or she questions their own sanity. See Gaslight.
Generation Flake. Term. A criticism of people who cannot maintain reliable relationships and who commit to social events before cancelling their involvement in them at the last minute. The criticism is generally made of young people (though not exclusively) and those who spend a large amount of time on social media, or who rely on electronic communication to maintain their interpersonal relationships. It is, apparently, “a modern thing”.
Generation Bedwetter. Term. Another Julie Burchill originated slang, used to characterise the snowflake generation in the era of the culture wars.
Generation Z. Term. Otherwise known as “Zoomers”, Generation Z is characterised as the demographic group that comes after Millennials, but before Generation Alpha. Usually referring to the mid-to-late 1990s as the starting birth years for this group and the early 2010s as ending birth years, most members of Generation Z are the children of Generation X (though some are children of early Millennials). Not confusing at all.
Ghosting. Term. The process of cutting off all communication with friends or a person being dated, with no warning or notice.
Goodhart's Law. Term. An adage named after economist Charles Goodhart, who advanced the idea in a 1975 article, Problems of Monetary Management: the U.K. Experience. Goodhart’s Law suggests that if a government decides to rely on any statistical relationship as the basis for policy, as soon as it does so, that relationship will collapse. The implication of this is that no government should disrupt situations or the ability of individuals to make the best of them as each sees best. The law is illustrated in the 2018 book The Tyranny of Metrics by Jerry Z. Muller.
Green Pass. Term. In the era of Covid-19, vaccination passports come in different forms and have different names. In the UK, the NHS App hold the vaccination passport for UK residents, in the European Union the preferred term is Green Pass. Whatever the name, the purpose is the same: an internal and international passport based on a medical intervention.
Green Zones. Term. A Covid-19 response policy framework associated with the Zero Covid-19 strategy, focused on strict travel restrictions, with testing and quarantine of new entrants to a geographic area, intended to reduce the importation of new Covid-19 cases and/or outbreaks in that area. The Green Zone goal is “zero new Covid-19 cases worldwide”. Under the framework, a zone should be naturally or artificially separated from its neighbouring districts and should only have controllable traffic transitions with neighbouring zones. Continuing to test, trace, and isolate within the population is a key feature of the framework, to monitor the community to ensure it is free of Covid-19.
Greenwash. Term. Sort of like "whitewash", but applied to suggest green concerns, particularly on the part of politically or commercially vulnerable actors with vested interests to protect. Can make advertising particularly annoying.
Greysexuality. Term. Greysexuality refers to people who experience limited sexual attraction, very rarely or with very low intensity. As such, they may only feel sexual attraction in specific circumstances. Greysexual originated in 2006 on the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN), the world's largest online asexual community and archive of resources on asexuality. Greysexuality stems from the idea that there is no black and white sexually, but a “grey” area that most people fit into.
Hands Up, Don't Shoot. Term, protest. A slogan (and physical gesture) that arose following the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Missouri.
Helicopter Money. Term, public policy. Refers to quickly increasing the money supply, including through fiscal measures such as additional spending or tax cuts, or injecting money directly into the accounts of individuals citizens as a means of jump-starting a weak economy.
Historical Revisionism. Term. The re-interpretation of a historical record that can reflect new facts, evidence or interpretation related to it. The debate over whether accurate history exists can result in challenging the established views of historical events, which can include the introduction of contrary evidence, or reinterpreting the motivations and decisions of historical figures. Historical revisionism can also involve a reversal of social or moral judgments, an exercise that is particularly popular in the information age.
Hypocrite. Term. A person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion or who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings.
I Can't Breathe. Term, protest. A protest slogan that became popular following the 2014 killing of Eric Garner, and which now is used in protests against police violence.
Iatocracy. Term. Rule by medics or, more specifically, doctors who run hospitals. Iatocracy comes from the Greek “iato” (meaning “physician”) and “kratein” (“rule”) and could not be more pertinent than at the present time.
Identity Politics. Term. People forming exclusive political alliances based on religion, race, gender, sexuality, etc. First entered the political domain in the late 1970s, but really took off a decade later. Today criticised by some as an approach for analysing the political organisation of society for being divisive, unhelpful, outdated and/or prejudicial.
Imposter Syndrome. Term. What is characterised as a psychological pattern in which an individual doubts his or her skills, talents, or accomplishments, resulting in a persistent internalised fear of being exposed as a "fraud". Popular with many individuals often in the spotlight who have argued that they feel they have experienced feeling a fraud in this way, this pattern is now also reported as being felt by others in professional roles.
Leftwaffe. Term. A satirical reference to the phenomena of online left-wing activists aggressively focusing attacks on individuals or organisations.
Me Too. Term. Protest. A political movement against sexual abuse or harassment perpetrated by powerful men against less powerful women.
Media Industrial Complex. Term. From media analyst Mark Dice’s The Liberal Media Industrial Complex, referring to a mass media which has expanded beyond television, radio and print to encompass social media. Dice argues that this social media element is now dominant and controlled by an anti-conservative and censorious Silicon Valley elite.
MEXIT. Term. The apparent drive of Meghan Markel to leave (with her husband and son) the close working relationship with the House of Windsor. Also see Brexit, which is less glamorous than this.
Millennial. Term. Used to denote people reaching young adulthood in the early 21st century.
MILF. Term. Slightly ruder than DILF and describing sexually attractive women of a certain age.
(The) "N" Word. Term. A phrase indicating the (offensive) use of the word "nigger" without obliging those considering it to actually use the term.
Net Worth. Term. The value of all assets, minus the total of all liabilities. Or, to put it another way, net worth is what is owned minus what is owed. This principle, long established in the financial world has more recently been applied to political debates and policies (Covid-19 and Climate Change, for example) in a way that remains open to debate.
No-platform. Term. The denial of a platform to opponents in a debate, apparently in an effort to limit what are claimed to be dangerous discussions or ideas. Has its roots in the culture wars (see above) of the 1990s academic circuit and came back with a vengeance (as did the culture wars) in the 2010s. See "re-platforming" (below).
Offence archaeology. Term. The practice of investigating the social media history of individuals to search for offensive or embarrassing statements that may have been made in the past.
OK Boomer. Term. A bitchy put-down and catchphrase that grew into a series of memes popular amongst certain teenagers and young adults starting from around November 2019. Used to dismiss and mock attitudes attributed to the baby boomer generation.
Populism. Term. A political approach that strives to appeal to "ordinary" voters who may feel frustrated that their concerns are disregarded by established elite groups. Think Donald Trump (slightly obviously).
PPE. Term. Or Personal Protective Equipment. Think facial spit guards, plastic gloves and face masks. Became almost a cultural as well as a lifestyle fetish in the era of Coronavirus.
Problematic. Term. Constituting or presenting a problem. In current cultural-political terms, “problematic” can be applied particularly topically to language, behaviour and representation, leading to debate, condemnation, sanction or that most current of actions, cancellation.
Precautionary Principle. Term. A broad approach to innovations and their potential to cause harm where such innovations involve risk and unknown quantities. Attacked by critics for being unscientific and a barrier to progress.
Processology. Term. A focus on specific process details at the expense of overarching aims and outcomes.
Producer Capture. Term. A critique, originally popular with economists in the 1970s, that suggests public services tend to be run in the interests of those who work in them (rather than for those who use or pay for them).
Protect Lives. Term, public policy. The connection, culturally and politically, of individual action to the wider community and its health. In the era of Coronavirus, everything from taking a bus to going jogging was encouraged to take place in a way so as to “protect lives”.
Protect The NHS. Term, public policy. The connection, culturally and politically, of individual action to the UK's National Health Service and the lead slogan in the British government’s campaign to rapidly change social behaviour so as to supposedly depress demand of clinical demand by depressing Coronavirus infection rates.
Psychology of Scarcity. Term. A theory that suggests when we lack something, we focus so hard on getting it that we then do other tasks badly. In particular, those who have pressing needs often struggle to plan properly and find their judgment impaired because they are so preoccupied with the scarcity issue.
Re-platform. Term. In Information Technology terminology, re-platforming involves changing and updating specific components of an application. These changes allow the application to function in the cloud, and often result in better scalability, user experience, security, or profitability. In political and cultural terms, however, the term "re-platforming" has been appropriated to indicate those individuals that have been brought back into public life and discourse despite being previously “no-platformed" (above).
Resist. Term, protest. Campaigning theme characterising refusal to cooperate with the presidency and administration of Donald Trump.
Safe Space. Term. Describing spaces, usually physical, where those who feel marginalised claim to feel secure from threats.
Shock Therapy. Term, public policy. A term used in economic analysis which refers to fast liberalisation of market and currency controls and quick economic liberalisation. Think Chile 1975 or the (post) the Soviet Union in the 1990s.
Social Distancing. Term, public policy. The principle of maintaining distance from others to protect individuals from potential contamination or infection. Particularly popular in the era of the safe space.
Stay Safe. Term, public policy. A slogan adopted by the British government during the Coronavirus pandemic to encourage alertness and defensiveness on the part of UK citizens. Has a cultural relationship to Operation Staysafe, which was an English scheme from 2008 that gave the police powers to transfer apparently vulnerable young people to social services.
Sunk Cost Fallacy. Term. According to Arkes & Blumer, this is a behaviour, policy or enterprise that is continued as a result of previously invested resources (credibility, time, money or effort). In this context, such a behaviour, policy or enterprise is characterised as a fallacy, related to loss aversion and status quo bias, potentially as a result of an ongoing commitment. This argument has been applied by some critics, such as Jonathan Sumption, to the Covid-19 lockdown strategy, with such critics arguing that Covid-19 lockdowns are an example of sunk cost fallacy in political policy terms.
Thank You. Term. The British phrase of the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic, adopted particularly by corporations and service providers in their advertising to communicate a caring characteristic following extensive market research with consumers to test the effectiveness of the phrase as used in this context.
Trans. Term. An abbreviation of "transgender" or "transsexual" or indeed trans anything.
Trigger Words. Term. Indicating words that can apparently trigger emotional or psychological responses in readers.
Twitterstorm. Term. A sudden flurry of online activity about a specific topic that appears on Twitter and which can be started by a single person, but which tends to be maintained by others with a passion.
Variants. Term. In the context of the Covid-19 crisis "variants" refers to mutations of the Coronavirus, as heavily used by the mainstream media in its reporting. Sometimes used interchangeably with "mutations", the use of "variants" in this context has been criticized by some as exaggerating and over-dramatising a process of viral evolution that is long-established and observed.
Vicious Sanctimoniousness. Term. As penned by the doyen of movie critics, Pauline Kael, and referring to the emerging heavily signalled moral virtue by Hollywood writers and directors in the 1970s and 80s to elevate themselves above their peers, the outcome of which is reassuring for some and annoying for others, who may resent being lectured to. Think On Golden Pond (if you must).
Victim Olympics. Term. Referring to the motivation amongst some apparently marginalised or discriminated against groups or individuals to elevate themselves over others by (over)emphasising their victimhood for attention or sympathy. As a satirical term, “Victim Olympics” has been in usage for some time but came to the fore during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Volvoisation. Term. A satirical term characterising what is perceived to be a middle-class desire for optimum safety in all things.
Woke. Term. Being alert to injustice in society, with a particular focus on racism. The word of our age.
Wokescreen. Term. The use by organisations and companies of diversity and inclusivity rhetoric to divert attention from their possibly controversial activities and ethos. The word itself is a portmanteau of "woke" and "smokescreen and is particularly popular with political and corporates as a perception management instrument in the social media era. See "Thank you" and "Greenwash" above, as well as Ben and Jerry’s.
Woke Smoke. Term. Similar to Green Wash, Woke Smoke is defined as a diversionary smokescreen, created by those who promote a woke agenda, featuring supposed or challenged "facts" designed to pivot the audience away from an honest and open examination of the issue at hand. Think gender, ethnic, environmental topics and issues.
Woke Weaning. Term. The process of using the education of young people for political education and/or indoctrination. In the context of the current culture wars, using education as a means to import a political perspective or opinion has, according to critics, resulted in the embedding of such principles as critical race theory in the classroom without the knowledge or consent of some authorities or parents.
Zoom Doom. Term. The feeling of exhaustion that can come as a result of taking part in many online meetings or presentations. This exhaustion is believed to come from the heavy concentration that such online business interaction requires, the nature of the electronic medium itself and the awareness of being on camera for long periods.
Zero Covid. Term. Aiming for a high majority of the population being vaccinated against Covid-19, Zero Covid advocates argue for lockdowns, strict border controls and aggressive infection-tracing, with public health experts leading the Covid-19 policy response and its implementation.