Dot Wordsworth


I want to add a footnote to the obstetric history of last week’s newborn word omnishambles. But before I forget, I noticed an advertisement on the side of a bus recently which asked: ‘Fed up with buffering?’ I did, by chance, know what the bus meant: buffering is the juddering standstill that internet video can come to. The buffer is, I think, a bit of memory dedicated to sucking up data before displaying it for you. The dictionaries have not caught up with this word yet, but it may prove short-lived, if the problem is resolved.

Now, omnishambles. It’s always a little suspicious (like having ‘Love’ and ‘Hate’ tattooed on your knuckles) to know off by heart sections of dialogue from television programmes (the parrot sketch, ‘four candles’) or Withnail and I. It suggests too many solitary evenings with boxed sets. So it was interesting to discover that when Ed Miliband at last week’s Prime Minister’s Questions said: ‘We are all keen to hear the Prime Minister’s view as to why, four weeks on from the Budget, even people within Downing Street are calling it an omnishambles Budget’, his source was Armando Iannucci’s The Thick of It. It came in one of those Baroque tirades by Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), in this case to the minister Nicola Murray (Rebecca Front): ‘You are a fucking omnishambles, that’s what you are. From bean to cup, you fuck up.’

The affable Allan Massie blogged about omnishambles being a bastard word, in the sense that it mashes up elements from two different languages. (Shambles had already attracted a Latin element with the suffix -ic in shambolic, a word first noted in the 1950s and perhaps formed by analogy with symbolic.)

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