Friday, July 08, 2016

Brexit: the war of the words

By chance or design, our often fractious relationship with continental Europe has contributed significantly to our proverbial 'mongrel' language which is up there with Finnish and Welsh as one of the continent's most notoriously difficult languages to learn. As if this isn't bad enough, recent events, monolithic institutions and the pseudo-intellectuals in the media have saddled us with a whole new world of linguistic detritus.

Looking back, it was easy: David Cameron promised a straight in/out referendum that we could get our heads around. As time passed, factions emerged in the form of official (and unofficial) Remain or Leave camps. Sadly, as with Brangelina and Jedward, the media outlets needed something...sexier? They found it! After all, who could fail to be seduced after drinking the love potion that is the blended neologism (or blelologism)?

Suddenly, a reporter recalled that the Greek threat to leave the EU had been dubbed Grexit (Greek exit) and so, logically, the concept of Brexit (noun) was born. But Brexit versus Remain lacked balance and harmony. We had the Yin, but why borrow that when we had no Yang to complete the set?  Fortunately, help was forthcoming as a timid hand raised itself from beside the water cooler and suggested that Remain could be renamed Bremain. Everyone present knew it was rubbish, but the noun worked. Shrek had found his Fiona and the blended neologisms were settled upon as the official lexicon of the Breferendum.

From this point on, we saw linguistic change take place at light speed. You were either pro- or anti-Brexit. Already, the new noun had undergone affixation thanks to two tried and tested prefixes. As a consequence it had shifted semantically, evolving from noun to adjective as in the pre-modification present in, '...claimed the pro-Brexit camp.'  The same didn't happen with Bremain because, as a  
noun, it was still rubbish.

Then came the ever-so-slightly-tortured plural noun for the pro-Brexit bunch: Brexiteers. Ostensibly, this is affixation through the use of a a suffix but, however we perceive it, it is difficult to dissociate the connotation of -eers with The Musketeers. Fearless, selfless noblemen risking everything for the side of good? It makes for a compelling image. Meanwhile, The Bremain Camp continued to sound like a dodgy political remake of Carry on Camping.

In truth, it may well have been the war of semantics - not words - that decided the referendum. Brexit always had so much more potential than Bremain and, in the end, three noble horsemen from France contributed to a divorce from that same nation (amongst many others). A result that left many voters feeling a sense of Bregret or Branxiety. Really? The blended neologisms were now forming more abstract nouns. Where will it all Brend?

As for the matter of the the red tops taking the initialism EU and using it as a substitute for the second person pronoun you? We'll leave that abuse of orthography for another time. EU have probably had enough for today.


2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Is Brexiteers just a plural noun rather than a collective? Great piece though - will definitely use this next year!

Kinguistics said...

Fair point! Might edit that. Thanks for the compliment though.