From partygate to Platty Joobs, we continue our look through 2022 in words
In the first blog post of our A Year in Words series, we looked at some of the words that dominated our conversations and rose in usage during the first quarter of 2022: from booster to Ukraine, via the less well-known monobob.
Now, our experts look at April to June and what the language we used can tell us about these eventful months.
A defining moment in Boris Johnson’s premiership came with a linguistic twist: partygate.
Referring to a series of social gatherings held in 10 Downing Street and other government buildings during the national COVID-19 lockdowns, this political scandal ran through much of 2022.
The word partygate began to crop up in December 2021, with its usage increasing dramatically in January and February and then peaking in April, as the nation waited for the publication of civil servant Sue Gray’s report into the parties.
Although a very British scandal, the word partygate reflects the influence of the United States in the language of politics around the world. Partygate is one of a large and varied group of words taking the suffix -gate, which denotes an actual or alleged scandal and often an attempted cover-up. These scandals take their name from the 1972 Watergate scandal where people connected with President Nixon’s Republican administration were caught breaking into, and attempting to bug, the national headquarters of the Democratic Party (in the Watergate building in Washington, D.C.) during a presidential election campaign.
And this isn’t the first time a scandal involving controversial celebrations has been dubbed partygate.
The word goes back to at least the late 1990s, with a 1997 article in the South China Morning Post suggesting a senior politician had used public money to fund a private party and calling the affair “Partygate.”
From then on, the word has been used intermittently to refer to a variety of unconnected scandals, all flaring up then disappearing. Time will tell if 2022’s partygate will become the word’s definitive moment.
While the partygate headlines rolled on into May, this month was also marked by an outbreak of monkeypox, leading to the word being used nearly 300 times more than in May 2021, and almost 600 times more than in April 2022.
The Oxford English Dictionary’s (OED) earliest evidence of the word monkeypox—“a disease resembling smallpox which affects various species of rodent, monkey, and ape, originally in western and central Africa, and which is transmissible to humans”—is from 1960, two years after it was first identified among laboratory monkeys in Copenhagen, Denmark.
In May 2022, words such as virus, symptoms, outbreak, infection, and spread were among those found near monkeypox, with others such as skin-to-skin, contact, and vaccine increasing in visibility as the outbreak progressed and focus shifted to public health attempts to limit its spread.
Its usage continued to grow before reaching a peak in August 2022, when the World Health Organisation (WHO) invited submissions for an alternative name for the disease. They were seeking to mitigate a rise in racist and stigmatising language associated with the disease, as part of an ongoing effort to ensure that the names of diseases do not create or reinforce negative associations or stereotypes. Our lexicographer Danica Salazar has written more on major health crises and language with Richard Karl Deang from the University of Virginia.
In November, it was announced that the WHO would phase out monkeypox in favour of mpox and urged other agencies to do the same.
One of the biggest events of the summer was Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee—the first and only time a British monarch has reached the milestone of 70 years on the throne.
The Jubilee, celebrated over the first weekend of June 2022, was marked in the UK by a two-day bank holiday enabling four days of street parties, parades, concerts, and services of thanksgiving.
This event prompted the creation of a new term—Platty Joobs.
This term burst onto the scene on 20 April 2022 when the actor Kiell Smith-Bynoe, one of the stars of the BBC sitcom Ghosts, tweeted:
“I dunno about you man gassed for Lizzies Platty Joobs. I don’t even know what it is but i’m READY. Might make some trainers on Nike ID 🎯💯 🤞🏾”
A month later, towards the end of May, it began to appear as a hashtag on Twitter.
While anticipation for this unprecedented celebration undoubtedly drove the use of Platty Joobs, discussion of the phrase itself also helped its spread.
Twitter users were divided on whether they loved or hated the playful abbreviation. Even those opposed found it hard not to succumb to what proved to be a lexical earworm. On 25 May, journalist and author Caitlin Moran tweeted:
“The Platinum Jubilee being called “The Platty Joobs” might be the worst thing to have ever happened in my lifetime. And yet … I’ve started whispering it to myself.”
The mid-year mark
We’re halfway through the year, and both politically and linguistically what a busy six months it was. Over our next two instalments we’ll cover the rest of 2022, with words relating to the extreme weather we experienced, the economic crises around the world and, of course, the passing of the UK’s longest-serving monarch, Queen Elizabeth II.