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A camel is a horse designed by a committee


By Miranda

It's funny the way democracy works. I'm happy with the notion of voting and even happy with the Australian model of compulsory voting. 

It doesn't seem to be too much to ask that if you're in a society you should commit to an opinion on its government every few years and it's a preferential, rather than a first-past-the-post system.
But it can have some funny effects.

We had to decide recently on the 'skinning', that is, the appearance, of programs we use. After culling the choices to a suitably wide range (and I still love the rejected purple-and-yellow option, if only because some clever marketing person had called it 'Fun' or some such emotive label), we carefully polled and correlated the results. Sedulously emulating the preferential system meant the elimination of the two colour schemes which had polarised the voters, and we ended up with the 'least offensive choice' which, unsurprisingly, was mostly grey.

Which leads me to how Australia's Macquarie Dictionary selected its 'Word of 2009'. Well, of course, I don't know exactly how the process evolved, but there was a committee which, according to newspaper reports, included Australia's greatest living poet (yes, that's just my opinion), academics, a newspaper boss and the dictionary's current editor.

For a year in which the nominated words included the pervasive 'tweet' of the global Twitter phenomenon, the evocative 'roar factor' description of a home-ground advantage and the delicious 'saltbush lamb' (which didn't even make the highly commended list), I can just imagine the way the group might eliminate the 'I'm just not going to vote for that one' choices. The obvious 'tweet' probably went on the grounds that it would be every other dictionary's choice (cringe) or that it wasn't domestic enough or was too 'techy' and too young. And so the pet hates went and we were left with 'shovel-ready', a term engendered by the GFC, and you can't get much greyer than that.

The people's choice was 'tweet', of course - what word would you suggest?

19 Responses to

A camel is a horse designed by a committee

kragzy said:
April 09, 2010 at 12:06 PM

I attended a professional association meeting recently where they were encouraging us old blokes to become mentors. The young people who receive such mentoring were referred to as "mentees". I thought of the Canadian police encouraging their students: Mounties giving Minties to Mentees.

kragzy said:
April 09, 2010 at 12:12 PM

Oh, and I heard "obesogenic" recently, referring to the junk that passes as food at Ms, HJs and KFCs.

April 09, 2010 at 7:59 PM

I am sorry Miranda, maybe it is my age, but what is the GFC, and what does "shovel ready" mean? Oddly enough, even though I do not twitter (is that the term?) I also understood "tweet".

April 10, 2010 at 11:46 AM

I don't know about the word of the year but I am sick of nouns being turned into verbs that never were verbs before and there are perfectly good verbs to do the job already, eg stretchered.

kragzy said:
April 10, 2010 at 3:27 PM

Hi Liesl, the GFC is the reason I am still working (and sneaking into YouPlay during coffee breaks). It's the global financial crisis which has evaporated around 30% to 40% of the savings of would-be self-funded retirees like myself. I understand that shovel-ready means public projects that are ready to start (like school buildings) which the government quickly "green-lighted" (sorry GJM) to stimulate the economy and avoid a recession.

kragzy said:
April 10, 2010 at 3:32 PM

Hi GJM, I'm with you on that one - despite my use of green-lighted (in the context of the theme of this blog). I remember being taught a number of 'ironic rules of good writing' such as "Don't abbrvte". One of them was "don't verb nouns". Verb is of course a noun which has been verbed (ouch) in that sentence.

April 10, 2010 at 7:52 PM

Kragzy thank you for the explanations. By the way, round our area the schools are receiving extra classrooms in the form of bungalows. Or whatever the temporary buildings are called. The one nearest to my home has almost a dozen lying round the place.

kl_003 said:
April 10, 2010 at 9:14 PM

I already have the word/s for end of this year..It will be how we are calling this year...I hear Twenty/Ten used constantly instead of Two Thousand & Ten..So Twenty/Ten will be the annoying word this year

April 11, 2010 at 12:05 PM

Following the embedded link in the blog was interesting. I liked the head-nodder and thought that "Bushfire Survival Plan" was totally unnecessary. The children I teach find it hard to believe that words of common usage today were unheard of when I was the same age. Sadly the unique words and phrases of Aussie Culture are also being lost to them as a result of the global effects on our language. Our language is and always will be constantly shifting. Nouns become verbs, verbs have become nouns and crossword compilers will have new clues to bamboozle those who enjoy the challenge of fitting words in interlinking boxes.

Ryu said:
April 11, 2010 at 2:53 PM

Like Stitchpuzz I followed the link. I had considered myself reasonable well read, educated, up to date etc and I work in a communications area. Of all of the the proclaimed words I recognised only one or two, only Tweet appears to be in common usage. Maybe the selection committee needs to spend some time in the real world. While the Media tends to make up words for effect that does not mean they have grabbed the attention of thier readers/listeners sufficiently so that the word has come into everyday usage. I didn't notice "going forward" included in the list, this is the catch phrase in use by management rather extensively at the present. Possibly the selection committees criteria inludes "Word must be sufficiently obtuse so we look like we know what we are talking about". Miranda, this is not a demonstration of democracy at work and to select your colour scheme do a survey and select using a popular vote, that is democracy- only the people who care sufficiently will vote without being forced to. To the non voters say" Too bad so sad, you were given the chance to have a say now go away"

April 12, 2010 at 3:08 PM

Talking about democracy - and I think you were - then I hope we can comment on anything. So is it a good look to have a BSW ad on the site where minors can visit? Just thought I would throw that into the

robboz00 said:
April 23, 2010 at 9:02 AM

I just want to ask which member of that committee asked for the hump?? Surely would just get in the way.

rhve said:
April 23, 2010 at 12:01 PM

just think of the hump as a roof rack

April 23, 2010 at 10:04 PM

Shovel ready! Who decided that? A committee you say....What a bunch of tools.

ganojomo said:
April 25, 2010 at 3:29 PM

My favourite 'new' word is 'apathargic'. I heard my daughter use it one day, when she was 'feeling tired but couldn't be bothered to do anything about it'. Aside from that, my comment harks back to those who were bemoaning the loss of our 'typically Aussie' language. Stone the flamin' crows, we'll all be talking like Yanks soon!

luddite said:
April 27, 2010 at 1:55 PM

It is also well known that an elephant is a mouse designed by a government committee.

kragzy said:
April 27, 2010 at 4:11 PM

I'm with you ganojomo. I'm a bloke with mates not a guy with buddies. My wife however, being an English rose, could never be called a shiela... or a gal!

May 04, 2010 at 12:04 PM

Shovel-ready reminds me of grave digging, which is were the committee come from for choosing that one! At least 'Tweet' was nice and friendly.

mazaz said:
May 04, 2010 at 6:50 PM

I just wonder how grammar is taught these days, with the constant changes in how our language is spoken/written. I have seen instances of incorrect spelling and context in the work of my grandchildren many times, but this is rarely taken into account when the work is assessed. When I was at school, we lost a half mark for every transgression of language, whether it was in biology, history or whatever work, and a great part of English was, in fact, grammar. Why is there no importance attached to this in school anymore?