WOTY heck is this?

Jamaica Gleaner - - @ISSUE - Tony Deyal Tony Deyal was last seen say­ing that the peo­ple who chose an emoji or ‘post-truth’ as word of the year are WOTY of a post-hu­mor­ous award for brazenry.

OLIVER WEN­DELL Holmes, the great Amer­i­can ju­rist, is quoted by Les­lie Dun­kling, the au­thor of the Guin­ness Book of Cu­ri­ous Words, as say­ing, “When I feel to read po­etry, I take down my dic­tio­nary. The po­etry of words is quite as beau­ti­ful as that of sen­tences.”

Given that Mr Holmes was both po­etic and ac­cu­rate when he said, “Lawyers spend a great deal of their time shov­el­ling smoke”, there is no ques­tion that he knew what he was talk­ing about. As did Ham­let. When Polo­nius asked him, “What do you read, my lord?” Ham­let an­swered, “Words, words, words.” One can say that the an­swer is ob­vi­ous. What else can you read?

How­ever, the schol­ars and in­ter­preters find so much mean­ing in the triple rep­e­ti­tion of the word ‘words’ that even though Ham­let’s re­sponse is so short, it oc­cu­pies less than a line, they can even read be­tween the lines of the line and write many words and para­graphs about Ham­let’s words. As Ken Rus­sell and Philip Carter say in the In­tro­duc­tion to The Com­plete Guide to Word Games and Word Play, “Peo­ple de­light in play­ing with words — pulling words apart, re­con­struct­ing them in dif­fer­ent guises, ar­rang­ing them in clever pat­terns and find­ing hid­den mean­ing in them.”


For ex­am­ple, one of the most ad­dic­tive word games is what is called the ‘Al­ter­na­tive Dic­tio­nary’, the ob­ject of which is to find witty al­ter­na­tive def­i­ni­tions for words. “Wan­ton” — a Chi­nese weight. ‘Tar­trate’ — a hooker’s fee. ‘Di­a­tribe’ — a bad bunch. ‘Prop­a­gate’ — keep the door ajar. (Which also leads to the ques­tion, “When is a door not a door?” When it is ajar.)

‘Glad­i­a­tor’ — how the can­ni­bal felt about his mother-in-law. And ‘Abun­dance’ — aer­o­bics for preg­nant women. There are also ‘Feghoots’ (an ana­gram of ‘the goofs’), a pun­ning game de­scribed as a long ‘shaggy dog’ story with a ridicu­lous punch line. Ac­cord­ing to the Com­plete Guide, the orig­i­nal feghoots were one-pagers in ‘The Mag­a­zine of Fan­tasy and Sci­ence Fic­tion’ and were about the ad­ven­tures of one Fer­di­nand Feghoot.

Have you heard about the swami who went to the butcher’s shop to buy some liver? The butcher, seek­ing to cheat the swami, beck­oned his as­sis­tant and said, “Weigh down upon the swami’s liver.”

This is a Feghoot. Here’s an­other. An awk­ward and poorly co­or­di­nated bum­ble-bee be­came ill while gath­er­ing pollen but con­tin­ued his work and in­fected all the flow­ers with his virus. The dis­ease, of course, was called ‘the blight of the fum­ble-bee’.

Here’s one for the road, “The King caught the Count steal­ing from the trea­sury.

The Count re­fused to tell the King where he had hid­den the trea­sure. The King or­dered him to be be­headed. The Count, at the last mo­ment, started to talk, but the Ex­e­cu­tioner couldn’t stop his axe. That will teach the King ‘not to hatchet his Counts be­fore they are chicken.’”

While the puns, ana­grams, and their vari­a­tions are all fun, cross­words seem to be the vogue — es­pe­cially if you spend any time lis­ten­ing to what passes in our na­tional par­lia­ments (or in the re­cent US pres­i­den­tial dog­fight) for de­bates. Politi­cians not only in­dulge in, but are all di­a­tribes as de­fined in the al­ter­na­tive dic­tio­nary. How­ever, they have their uses, and one of these is now a new word in the Ox­ford English (and Amer­i­can) Dic­tio­nary.

I grew up with Ox­ford and we used it even to write the Cam­bridge ex­am­i­na­tions. In el­e­men­tary school, the Pocket Ox­ford, the old­est of the abridged dic­tionar­ies, was manda­tory and some­times, when in anger, we hurled them at one an­other, it was an early ex­am­ple of the Caribbean propen­sity to throw words.

This is why I fol­low the an­nual WOTY or Ox­ford’s ‘Word of the Year’, which, last year, was not even a word. As PC World said, “Ox­ford Dic­tionar­ies just se­lected its word of the year for 2015 and here it is: .Yes, for the first time in his­tory, the hal­lowed author­ity on the English lan­guage is se­lect­ing a pic­to­graph, aka emoji (face with tears of joy) as its word of the year. The emoji is a fas­ci­nat­ing choice for Ox­ford dic­tionar­ies — one that em­pha­sises how im­por­tant the emoji has be­come to mod­ern lan­guage.

“The rise of text-cen­tric com­mu­ni­ca­tion apps such as Line, What­sApp, and Face­book Mes­sen­ger have made emo­jis a nec­es­sary so­lu­tion for ex­press­ing emo­tion as clearly as pos­si­ble. That’s a lim­i­ta­tion that writ­ten text has never been able to over­come, es­pe­cially with short bursts of com­mu­ni­ca­tion made up of just a line or two.”

This year, 2016, the WOTYH is ‘post-truth’. The Tele­graph news­pa­per says, “Re­flect­ing the po­lit­i­cal up­heavals in both Bri­tain and Amer­ica, Ox­ford Dic­tionar­ies has an­nounced a joint US-UK word of the year: ‘post-truth’.

The word is an ad­jec­tive, de­fined in the dic­tio­nary as ‘re­lat­ing to or de­not­ing cir­cum­stances in which ob­jec­tive facts are less in­flu­en­tial in shap­ing pub­lic opin­ion than ap­peals to emo­tion and per­sonal be­lief’... While it has been around since 1992, when it was first used in re­la­tion to the Per­sian Gulf War, us­age of ‘post-truth’ has in­creased by 2,000 per cent over the past year, ac­cord­ing to the Ox­ford English Cor­pus, which analy­ses 150 mil­lion spo­ken and writ­ten words from var­i­ous sources each month.”

Ac­cord­ing to Ox­ford, “It has also be­come as­so­ci­ated with a par­tic­u­lar noun, in the phrase ‘post­truth pol­i­tics’.” In other words, the me­dia no longer have to post truth.

This takes us back to what Oliver Wen­dell Holmes said about lawyers and the need to ap­ply it to all the other pro­fes­sions that deal in words. What we do is shovel smoke. And ped­dle mir­rors.

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