The new verb “to mubarak” – [pron: moo-BAR-ak]

12 03 2011

English has a long tradition of eponymizing – creating ordinary words out of people’s names. Think boycott, sandwich, cardigan, hoover. Political events can be a major impetus to the forging of new eponyms. The recent pro-democracy movement in Egypt is a good example.

Of course, the events in northern Africa are both complex and dynamic and they’re likely to keep on changing for some time yet. However, stripped back to their most basics, what went on in Cairo in recent weeks was a collective message sent by a mass of people to a despised leader. I wouldn’t want to simplify or mock the communication; only to point out that it does contain the fundamental elements: SENDER, MESSAGE, and RECEIVER.

The message was not lacking in clarity. Employing different languages – like, Arabic, English, German, Chinese, as well as plain semiotics eg Mubarak + delete – demonstrators yelled, held up signs, sang, screamed, their wishes to their leader, who for the most part seemed not to be hearing or heeding. Well, that’s what despots do – they hang onto power by their fingernails, at the eleventh hour offering risible concessions that are far too little and far too late.

Little wonder therefore that the verb to mubarak is moving away from the man himself and entering the language with another meaning, one that emerges from the recent events. Loosely, to mubarak looks like becoming a verb with meanings like “to outstay one’s welcome”, “to fail to get the hint”, “to get stuck.”

Only time will tell what further morphs and shifts lie ahead, in the politics as well as the language. If, as I suspect, mubaraking comes to mean something like “digging your heels in”, then Hosni may get to have a very succinct notion of what his legacy will be.

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