Omnishambles named word of the year by Oxford English Dictionary

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Peter Capaldi as Malcolm Tucker
Image caption,
Foul-mouthed fictional spin doctor Malcolm Tucker has left his mark on the English language

"Omnishambles" has been named word of the year by the Oxford English Dictionary.

The word - meaning a situation which is shambolic from every possible angle - was coined in 2009 by the writers of BBC political satire The Thick of It.

But it has crossed over into real life this year, said the judges.

Other words included "Eurogeddon" - the threatened financial collapse in the eurozone - and "mummy porn" - a genre inspired by the 50 Shades books.

"Green-on-blue" - military attacks by forces regarded as neutral, such as when members of the Afghan army or police attack foreign troops - was also on the shortlist.

The London Olympics threw up several contenders including the verb "to medal", "Games Maker" - the name given to thousands of Olympic volunteers - and distance runner Mo Farah's victory celebration "the Mobot".


New words from the world of technology included "second screening" - watching TV while simultaneously using a computer, phone or tablet - and social media popularised the acronym "Yolo", you only live once.

"Pleb" - an old word given new life by claims Conservative Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell used it to describe police officers in Downing Street - was also shortlisted.

He denied using the word, a derogatory term for the lower classes, but was forced to resign as a minister.

But it was omnishambles that most impressed the judges.

Fiona McPherson, one of the lexicographers on the judging panel, said: "It was a word everyone liked, which seemed to sum up so many of the events over the last 366 days in a beautiful way.

"It's funny, it's quirky, and it has broken free of its fictional political beginnings, firstly by spilling over into real politics, and then into other contexts.

"If influence is any indication of staying power, it has already staked its claim by being linguistically productive in its own right, producing a number of related coinages.

"While many of them are probably humorous one-offs, their very existence shows that the omnishambles itself has entered at least the familiar parlance, if not quite the common parlance."


Labour leader Ed Miliband, whose phrase "squeezed middle" - referring to those hit hardest by falling living standards - was word of the year in 2011, made the first recorded use of omnishambles in the House of Commons in April.

"Over the last month we have seen the charity tax shambles, the churches tax shambles, the caravan tax shambles and the pasty tax shambles," said the Labour leader at Prime Minister's Questions.

"We are all keen to hear the prime minister's view as to why, four weeks on from the Budget, even people within Downing Street are calling it an omnishambles Budget."

The word swiftly took off as a favourite term of abuse for opposition politicians attacking the government.

But it also mutated on social media into humorous new variants such as "Romneyshambles" - used to describe gaffes by US presidential candidate Mitt Romney during his visit to the UK - and omnivoreshambles, referring to the row about a planned badger cull in England and Wales.

Omnishambles was first heard at the end of an episode in the third series of The Thick of It, during a characteristically foul-mouthed rant by spin doctor Malcolm Tucker, played by Peter Capaldi.

Tucker berates head of the fictional Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship Nicola Murray, played by Rebecca Front, over her husband's involvement in a private finance initiative contract and her plan to send her daughter to a private school.

There is no guarantee omnishambles, or any of the other shortlisted words, will make it on to the pages of the Oxford English Dictionary.

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