Two cheers for Permacrisis

It is that time of the year again. You might even call it the brief silly season when some dictionary or the other decides to name a word that should be anointed with the grand title of ‘Britain’s Word of the Year.’ Since we are discussing the English language, what Britain thinks today, the world will think the day after tomorrow. At least, that would appear to be the fond hope of Collins Dictionary which, after much head scratching, comes up with a word it deems fit to be given this dubious honorific. Clearly the chosen word must necessarily be of recent coinage, if not vintage, and not one that the dictionary has featured in its pages since its inception, perhaps hidden in obscurity and never seen the light of day. As the poet had it, ‘Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, and waste its sweetness on the desert air.’ What is more, the champion word would have come through a phalanx of other words with similar credentials. Criteria for selection would have been rigorous and for the year 2022, the wordy nerds at Collins shortlisted, from among a laughably asinine field, gems such as Kyiv, sportswashing, partygate and permacrisis. The last named, permacrisis, won hands down and has been crowned ‘Britain’s Word of the Year.’ Deafening applause all round.

The winner, Permacrisis (the upper-case P is my recognition of the title winner and not to be confused with a proper noun) has been defined as ‘an extended period of instability and insecurity.’ Ergo, permanent + crisis = permacrisis. QED. Evidently it has crept into our everyday lexicon, reflecting the upheaval caused by Brexit, the Covid pandemic, severe weather, war in Ukraine, political turmoil and a cost-of-living crisis. If multifarious crises of various denominations are the sole raison d’etre for the birth of the word permacrisis (we can now dispense with the capital P), then countries all over the world, including India, can lay claim to adopting the word, the runners-up included. Microsoft Word indicates its unease with these new entrants (barring Kyiv) and is quick to underline them in vermillion, even as I finish typing them. I can see where Word is coming from.

That said, I personally find the chief contestants for ‘Britain’s Word of the Year’ a pretty poor selection. Apparently, sportswashing refers to the staging of high-profile sports events, or the takeover of well-known teams by ‘unsavoury regimes.’ Are they referring to football teams from the high profile English Premier League? And what on earth is an ‘unsavoury regime?’ One will have to assume, by the application of common sense, that the reference is presumably to teams bought over for ‘thirty pieces of silver’ by enemies of the state (of Britain) such as Russia, rogue nations from the Middle-east or despotic Chinese deep pockets. The ‘Gunners’ at Arsenal may have greater firing power, but the decision to invite massive sponsorship money from airline major ‘Emirates,’ highly respectable brand though it is, does not seem to sit too well with the vox populi. All I can say is that you cannot have your Black Forest cake and eat it too! Russian oligarch Roman Abrahamovic smartly sold off his stake in Chelsea Football Club to American interests once his close friend, Vladimir Putin started playing violent footsie with Ukraine. Politics makes strange bedfellows. Still and all, sportswashing doesn’t quite wash.

Then there is Kyiv, the spelling changed from the original Russian Kiev, presumably a nod of approval to the new, preferred spelling as a defiant snook-cocking exercise in support of the Western Bloc’s alliance with Ukraine against Moscow’s aggression, poster boy Zelensky being the current flavour of the season. This is nothing more than lip service, but I suppose in war time, every little bit counts. As one can divine, two of the shortlisted words take a direct line through the Russkraine (my coinage) conflict. However, a pretty pedestrian choice for rubbing shoulders with the elite ‘Britain’s Word of the Year’ candidates. Not, as I have already stated, that the other contenders are any great shakes either.

Finally, we have partygate. The natural reaction would be, ‘Oh no, not another bloody gate suffix!’ Ever since Watergate hit the headlines all those years ago, we have been inundated with one scandalous gate after another. So much so I won’t even bother mentioning any of them. English publications in India, which are usually one step behind their western counterparts, have been quick on the draw with all manner of sleazy gates to deal with on a daily basis. Try Morbigate on for size, red-flagging the recent bridge collapse tragedy in Gujarat.

Every time a scandal breaks out in any corner of the world, the gates open wide and it is open season for headline writers with impossible deadlines to meet and calcified imaginations. Partygate, Collins? Give me a break. All because Boris Johnson’s reckless party shenanigans brought down his government, making way for Truss and Sunak to foxtrot their way out (and in) respectively of No.10. Surely, the country that gave us ready wits like Oscar Wilde, Winston Churchill and Spike Milligan, could have come up with something far more risible. It was the irreverent Goon, Milligan who famously said, ‘All I ask is the chance to prove that money can’t make me happy.’ To say nothing of Samuel Johnson, the man who did so much to fashion the quintessential English dictionary.

The best word I can think of to describe this contrived selection of words by Collins and their brains trust is ‘humdrum.’ While I do appreciate that current affairs such as wars and pandemics do play an important role in coming up with specially coined words, the point of the exercise defeats me. The language already contains many words that are rare and seldom used that Collins could have dredged up. Many of us are frequently criticized for using words that others consider bombastic and showy. Ask our voluble and loquacious MP from Trivandrum, Shashi Tharoor, a perennial butt of stand-up satire. Thankfully, he has a sense of humour and will endorse my view, with knobs on. However, our fit-to-burst dictionaries can well do without frequent new additions that seem superfluous. I hope Mr. Collins is listening.

It has also been noticed that English dictionaries, in recent years, have displayed a penchant for including words of Indian origin on a fairly regular basis. This could be a tacit acknowledgment of the burgeoning Indian and Asian diaspora in the United Kingdom, and now that a Prime Minister of Indian origin has been installed at No.10 Downing Street, we could justifiably expect more of the same. In anticipation of which, may I make a few suggestions to Collins, Oxford, Cambridge, Mirriam-Webster and other word spinners, of India-centric words that could fit in seamlessly without anyone even being aware. I grant you that this goes against the grain of my stated position that there are already too many words in our dictionaries for us to digest, but I am merely going with the flow. Who knows, some of them may even qualify for ‘Britain’s Word of the Year’ award in 2023.

So, here goes nothing. Laabh, meaning profit, but in Bengali, illogically, due to a pronunciation quirk unique to Bengalis, translates to love, as in ‘I laabh you.’ I am not a great fan of puns, but it could help the case for inclusion. Tamil films are full of macchi these days, meaning pal or friend. ‘What macchi, coming to watch Dhoni’s farewell game at Chepauk?’ It has a certain crude ring to it. Saala, literally translates to brother-in-law in Hindi (along with less innocent connotations) and a few other Indian languages, but is colloquially frequently employed as a pejorative banter, as in ‘Saala, what does he think of himself the son of a so-and-so?’ What good is a language if it does not have its share of homespun, vile abuse? Those are my three candidates, Collins or Oxford or whoever, Laabh, Macchi and Saala. I humbly offer them for your weighty consideration.

As a quick aside, it is pertinent to point out that kids of Indian origin are precociously regular in winning spelling bee contests in the United States and elsewhere. While India’s States are politically and linguistically divided and squabbling over Hindi being declared our national language, the country’s projected world dominance over the next century could well witness Sanskrit as the universal lingua franca of preference. Like the Max Mueller Bhavans of worldwide German fame, I see Sanskrit Bhavans sprouting all over the world. Ah well, hope springs eternal.

It is worth noting that the latest edition of the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary features 26 new Indian English words, including Aadhaar, chawl, dabba, hartal, shaadi and even mouth-watering delicacies like vada and gulab jamun. Words have been drawn from Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, Urdu and Gujarati vernaculars. That should keep some of our overly touchy Chief Ministers in good spirits. The total count in this category could be well over 100, and I am not even counting the old British Raj legacy contributions like kedgeree, dungaree, khakhi, bungalow, jungle, pundit etc.

Meanwhile, with winter fast approaching, I fervently hope the comity of western nations, already reeling under ‘political turmoil, war and severe weather,’ do not fall victim to permafrost, and that Mr. Collins’ permacrisis will be given a decent burial.

Published by sureshsubrahmanyan

A long time advertising professional, now retired, and taken up writing as a hobby. Deeply interested in music of various genres, notably Carnatic and 60's and 70's pop/rock. An avid tennis and cricket fan. Voracious reader of British humour and satire. P.G. Wodehouse a perennial favourite.

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  1. I think jugaad would also be a great word for consideration. Unless it’s already there!


  2. Hello Suresh.

    Great post as usual. May I offer my thoughts on your three candied-dates (!).

    Laabh – anagrams to ‘H Baal’. Profit and Baal perhaps related, certainly false profit. As regards Ben Gali whoever he is (!) and to love, well in Greek ‘b’ and ‘v’ related so it becomes ‘Laavh’ sounding like’love’.

    In English, land lubber means land lover’.

    An anagram of Laavh is ‘halva’ a type of sweet which is ‘laavly’ no doubt!!!

    Macchi – this can be Mac as in ‘son of’ in Scottish and chi meaning ‘energy’ in Chi-nese. This could be construed as a friend as such a friend could be beneficial.

    ‘A hi MCC’ is an anagram which might be ‘A hello to the Marylebone Cricket Club’ where you could meet a friend.

    Saala – well an anagram is ‘A alas’ someone who causes you to say ‘Alas, alas, woe is me, the brother-in-law is coming to tea!’

    Or perhaps we should say the bother-in-law as he may be a bit of a bother!!!

    Many thanks again for your post for giving me lots of ideas and new words to play with.

    Kind regards


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