‘Serious fellows, these Americans,’ said my husband, applying stereotypes with a broad, patronising brush. He had a point, though, for Merriam-Webster’s, the dictionary people, announced that their word of the year, 2012, was a dead heat between socialism and capitalism. ‘We saw a huge spike for socialism on election day,’ said one of its editors. ‘Lookups of one word often led to lookups of the other.’ Lookups, eh? Like pressups, cockups and kneesups?
These lookups are online clicks. It is odd to think that undecided voters should have been swayed by reading a short definition of socialism.
Back in Blighty, Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year was omnishambles, about which I wrote on 28 April. So while Americans were studiously checking the meaning of socialism, the British were merrily parroting a word popularised by television satire (The Thick of It).
Not that Americans are innocent of political mockery. A bold attempt was made to launch a spin-off from omnishambles: Romneyshambles. Blogs on the New Yorker website used the term when Mitt Romney expressed doubt about Britain’s ability to organise the Olympics. A blogger on the Daily Telegraph site called Mr Romney a wazzock, which meant a ‘bull’s penis’ (the NY blogger said), ‘according to some sources’ (the Urban Dictionary website).
Wazzock, a mildly depreciative term, is of unknown origin and the OED has found no example earlier than 1976. The reference to the bull is all bull. (Bull in the sense of ‘nonsense’, by the way, is not an abbreviation of bullshit, but belongs to the clump of meanings associated with bad jests.) In any case, Mr Romney only said what many British people were saying at the time, in the spirit of that other popular comedy series, Twenty Twelve.