Words in the News


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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter

Warning: This post may contain spoilers.

I wrote a few months ago about the popular TV show The Great British Bake Off and its move from the BBC to Channel 4. The move involved changes to both presenters and judges and one of the new recruits, chef Prue Leith, got the show and herself in the news again by accidentally tweeting the name of the winner 10 hours before the show aired in the UK. Leith’s gaffe, which she attributed to confusion caused by the fact that she was in a different time zone, did not seem to harm the show’s viewing figures: the audience that watched Sophie Faldo pick up the engraved glass cake stand was the highest achieved by the channel since it aired the opening ceremony of the London Paralympics back in 2012.

Although Leith’s tweet was quickly deleted, the nature of social media means that the winner’s name was most definitely out there before the final aired. With changes to viewing habits meaning that many people no longer watch programmes when they are first broadcast, the risk of accidentally finding out about a plot twist or surprise denouement is far greater than when everyone watched the same things at the same time. While a mistake such as Leith’s counts as genuine (and unintended) spoiler, someone who is watching days, weeks or months later cannot really complain when they come across something that spoils the suspense for them.

The noun spoiler has a range of meanings, from a part on a car to someone who spoils something. The OED dates the first use of this meaning of spoiler to 1971, when the US magazine National Lampoon published an article that revealed the denouements of classic films such as Psycho, with the tongue-in-cheek intention of sparing its readers potentially dangerous suspense.

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Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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