Occupy English

In the April issue of IEEE Spectrum, an article “Occupy English” by Paul McFedries, about the vocabulary introduced by the Occupy movement. The intro:

Occupy is an old word, of course, but by late 2011 it had come to have a new meaning: “to take possession of and remain in a place without authorization as a form of protest.” In fact, the protesters soon largely abandoned the “Wall Street” portion of the name, and the protests became more generally known as the capital-O Occupy movement. Indeed, the word became so iconic that the American Dialect Society voted it Word of the Year for 2011.

and the conclusion:

The language is richer for these new additions to the vocabulary, but it remains to be seen if this movement can create more than just linguistic wealth.

In between, McFedries enumerates lexical innovations associated with the movement:

the 99 percent, 99 percenters, the 1 percent, 1 percenters, 53 percenter, corporatocracy / corpocracy, plutonomy, lucrepaths, occupationistas, precariat, workweek creep, job spill, weisure, stop-loss jobs, mancession, 99er, worklessness, human microphone, twinkling

These include semantic specializations of existing vocabulary, novel compounds, novel derivational formations, and portmanteaus. Details in the article.

On McFedries: on his web site, he describes himself as a “technical writer and word spy” (Wikipedia entry here), so it’s not entirely surprising that he published this piece in an IEEE publication. But I surely wouldn’t have come across it if Dan Elwell hadn’t pointed it out to me on Google+.

[The IEEE bills itself as “The world’s largest professional society for the advancement of technology”. On the name:

IEEE, pronounced “Eye-triple-E”, stands for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. The association is chartered under this name and it is the full legal name. To learn more about association’s name, please read the History of IEEE. (link)

So IEEE isn’t yet an orphan initialism, but the full name is very rarely used.]

 A final note, on the title of McFedries’s piece, “Occupy English”: This is a play on Occupy Wall Street, etc., but lacks the component of physical occupation of a place. So you might understand it as conveying the taking over of some aspect of English — presumably, the lexicon — via the Occupy movement. But of course the lexicon of English is affected in only a minor way by these additions, most of which will surely not endure for long. Still, it makes an eye-catching title.

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