language change and slang Live English

Shake a leg, Angelina!

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In the sometimes surreal world of social networking, Angelina Jolie’s right leg now has its own Twitter account (@AngiesRightLeg), with almost 50,000 followers. And the English lexicon has a new word: legbombing. Posing on the red carpet at the 2012 Oscars ceremony, Ms Jolie thrust her right leg through a thigh-high slit in her Versace dress, and set off a new craze. Within hours, hundreds of doctored photos appeared on the Web, showing well-known paintings, album covers, and cultural icons (like the Statue of Liberty), all tweaked to include a long, slender right leg poking out. This process is known as legbombing.

The –bombing suffix is enjoying quite a vogue: glitter-bombing is our most recent BuzzWord, and earlier examples (also covered as BuzzWords) include photobombing and yarnbombing. But the ‘meaning’ of bombing in expressions like this looks a little unstable, as if the suffix hasn’t yet settled on its semantic role. It seems to encode two distinct ideas: the notion of altering something’s appearance, usually as a prank (photobombing), and the idea of completely covering something (glitterbombing). Yarnbombing combines both of these strands. The ‘covering’ theme also appears in  google-bombing, which is about covering, or ‘saturating’  the Web with links to your site, and we might speculate that the prototype here is the practice of carpet-bombing.

The legbombing craze is unlikely to last, so the word itself may not be around for long. But you can never tell. The term wardrobe malfunction, which originated from a specific, and somewhat similar event at the 2004 Super Bowl, quickly acquired a more generic meaning and is still widely used. At any rate, Angelina’s right leg has given us a few laughs, and provided another ‘bombing’ word to add to the list.

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Michael Rundell

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