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  • One reason why an ingenious coinage such as ‘to meerkat’ is unlikely to catch on is perhaps that it relies on a very specific and ephemeral set of cultural references. Contemporary UK readers of Kate Atkinson’s novel may well have seen both the charming TV documentaries about meerkats and the series of punning TV ads that they spawned; but how likely is it that future speakers and readers of English will be sufficiently familiar with the habits of these engaging but geographically restricted animals?

  • I’ve always struggled to put my finger on just why I get so upset hearing serious Radio 4 types going on about new coinages, usually rather dismissively. I think you just hit the nail on the head … it’s because they take all the fun out of it!

  • Liz: That’s true. I don’t know the ads you mention but I’ve become familiar with meerkats through nature documentaries, and not everyone would know what they are. Those who do, I suspect, would generally picture them in their characteristic meerkatting-to-attention stance!

    Julie: Sadly, that seems to be the case for some people. It’s not enough for them that language is taken seriously in serious contexts, but any hint of ‘improper’ play with words is to be frowned and harrumphed upon. What are we, children!?

  • Funny, I’ve never heard of “meercatted” until now but I instantly know what it means.
    To non-UKers the humorous-cum-tedious TV commercials are predicated on the punning of the insurance website’s name ‘comparetheMARKET.com’ with ‘comparetheMEERKAT.com’ cue an overly long series of cartoon anthropomorphised meerkat-based nonsense and spin-off promotional merchandise …meh?

  • Mwncïod: It had the same effect on me: Michael’s post last week was my first encounter with the verb, but it made complete and immediate sense. Thanks for explaining the insurance ads. I don’t think I want to look them up on YouTube!

  • Out with the prescriptivists and in with the descriptivists – ‘simples!’ It’s the 21st century and we need to dispel the myth circulated by a high-brow few but accepted by many, that language innovation can be discarded as ‘not proper’. Thanks, as ever, for an interesting post Stan.

  • Hear hear, Kerry. I have encountered the claim that new words and usages are inadvisable by default unless they fill a gap in the language that needs to be filled. But who would adjudicate on this? (And how, and why?) It seems to me just another arbitrary point on which these sticklers can assume authority over others and clamp down on fun.