‘Omnishambles’ – a further Dent in coalition confidence?

Once in a while, a small group of Wordspotters exercise a curiously powerful grip on a sound-bite hungry news-media. The Oxford English Dictionary has just announced ‘Omnishambles’, as their 2012 Word of the Year, popularised by the BBC political satire The Thick of It. Hot on its heels comes Mobot, Eurogeddon, mummy porn, pleb, green-on-blue, second screening, to medal (verb), Games Maker and YOLO. The national and international media are understandably having a field day bandying around the winning word which the OED press release defines as ‘a situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged, characterized by a string of blunders and miscalculations’. In the week that hardly anybody will be voting for their local ‘Police and Crime Commissioner’ ’Omnishambles’ certainly does seem to reflect the current mood. And it gives me great pleasure that the likes of the OED spokesperson Susie Dent (yes, the lovely intelligent lady who wields a magnifying pen and dictionary on Countdown), is the person behind reminding the British public that this so-called government couldn’t organize a drunken party in a beer-brewing establishment. Susie says: ‘The Oxford Dictionaries UK Word of the Year is a word, or expression, that we feel has attracted a great deal of interest during the year to date. In the case of omnishambles, we also recognised its linguistic productivity: a notable coinage coming from the word is Romneyshambles, coined in the UK to describe US presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s views on London’s ability to host a successful Olympic Games. Other spin-off terms have been largely humorous or one-off – from Olympishambles and Scomnishambles, to omnivoreshambles and Toryshambles.’

A glance at the words of the year from 2008 onwards provides an interesting narrative of the last five years of British politics – ‘Credit Crunch’ (2008) leads to ‘Simples’ (2009) from the ‘Compare the Markets’ [meercats] advertising campaign exploiting our need to make more informed consumer decisions resulting from this crisis. Following this we have the Tory election buzzword ‘Big Society’ (2010) further emphasizing how poor people should mop up the mess made by the banking system responsible for the credit crunch. The ‘Squeezed Middle’ (2011) was one of Ed Miliband’s attempted ripostes to David Cameron, trying to focus on the hard-done-by middle classes (alas, by-passing huge swathes of less well-off citizens). And ‘Omnishambles’ encapsulates the Con-Dem coalition, unfortunately the very weak opposition, the BBCs editorial policy, and just to be topical, Nadine Dorries’ disastrous decision to live in a jungle so she can continue co-habiting with creepy-crawlies and blood-suckers.

I’m quite happy that ‘Omnishambles’ is doing the rounds in the UK press at the moment. What do you think? Any of the others from the list that float your boat? Or can you suggest any more? Come on – YOLO!

Matt Davies


About Dr Matt Davies

Senior Lecturer in English Language at the University of Chester

Posted on November 13, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Hi Matt

    What is their justification for ‘mummy porn’ and ‘pleb’?

    Kerry (1213900)

  2. Hi Kerry. Good question! For ‘mummy porn’ their definition is: ‘(noun, informal): chiefly derogatory – erotic fiction of a type written for or read by women’. I’d never heard it until yesterday’s news stories. But apparently it has been doing the rounds since all the fuss about ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, the so-called ‘erotic’ fiction which has allegedly become very popular among certain groups of women, and is in the best-seller lists in your local supermarkets.
    ‘Pleb’ is a very old word (short for ‘plebeian’) and has been around as an insult as long as I can remember. Their definition is: ‘an ordinary person, especially one regarded as being of low social status’ taken from the Latin for ‘common people’. A check of the Oxford English Dictionary on-line shows it has been in the OED since the first edition in 1907 and its first recorded written usage was 1795 from somebody called J. O’Keeffe in the publication ‘Life’s Vagaries’ v. ii. 85 where it is quoted “You’re under my roof, you pleb” – not much difference to its usage today by the looks of it. HOWEVER, the reason why it is close to being a word of the year is that earlier this year the Conservative Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell aimed the insult at police officers in Downing Street as he was trying to leave through the main gate. They were doing their job by not letting him through the gate with his bike, and the subsequent uproar as the police filed quite a long report on his usage of the word ‘pleb’ eventually led to his resignation from the post of chief whip. See the BBC report here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-20014643 . So these words, even though they certainly are not new have been revitalized by events and take on new significance. Hope that answers your question, and thanks for commenting. You can read the full OED press release here: http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/press-releases/uk-word-of-the-year-2012/

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