Extraordinary numbers, and new words — a miscellany

By July 20, 2016Climate Change

Alan Moran writes well, and I was impressed by a recent article of his in Catallaxy files on the absurd electricity-generation situation in South Australia. One number took me by surprise: the spot price for electricity moved from the usual range of $50-100 per megawatt hour to thousands, just like that. I believe the highest point was around $14,000. To put the rise in domestic terms, where you would normally pay five to ten cents to run a thousand-watt radiator for an hour, now you would be charged $14. What had caused this extraordinary rise? Alan Moran explains it:

Last week came a triple whammy, not totally unpredictable.  A cold snap drove up demand.  This was associated with unusually windy conditions that stopped the windmills from operating.  And the main interconnect from Victoria was down in preparation for its capacity being increased.  In addition, a number of major user firms – including BHP, Nystar and Arrium – had decided to buy electricity on the spot market rather than contracting.  Absence of contracts provided a signal to Engie, the owner of Pelican Point, the second largest power station, to divert its contracted gas elsewhere.

Those with a taste for irony will note that the wind turbines stopped because there was too much wind. Suddenly, firms that needed power right now, and had no contracts found, they would have to close their doors. Blame was thrown around as the SA Government found itself to be horribly embarrassed. Even the Commonwealth was criticised for providing subsidies for wind-power development. Moran again:

This latter call is a bit rich since the state has made a feature of its wind resources and it was only in November last year that the Premier attending the Paris Climate Change conference paraded the prospect of the state becoming 100 per cent “low carbon” electricity which he said would be good for jobs.

The sight of governments going down the renewable energy path has fascinated me ever since I became aware of it. What did the Treasury say, in each case? Did it point out the high cost of renewable energy — about three times that of coal-fired power? Did it point out that wind is notoriously variable in its capacity to deliver when power is needed? Did it point to the lower profit the State’s industries would make, meaning lower capacity to invest, and a lower capacity to employ, as a consequence of high-priced power? Was it told to mind its own business?

I’ve written more than once about the ACT’s delusionary quest for 100 per cent renewable ‘clean’ (how environmentalists love that word) power, and ACT politicians should inspect closely what has been happening in South Australia. It could be a foretaste of things to come in the national capital. Let them note  that in South Australia wind accounts for 38 per cent of supply and solar for seven per cent. The State has closed its own coal mine and the attendant power station, and now really depends on Victoria’s brown coal — again, an irony for a State proud of its clean energy. The politicians should also read and think about an excellent essay in Judith Curry’s Climate etc on the whole clean energy issue.

Now to words. As a writer I have had a long-running battle with neologisms, even though I recognise that language is always in process of change. For example, I detest ‘ongoing’, which seems to me to add nothing to a fine word  that has been in use for generations — ‘continuing’ — and I won’t use it. I also detest the common practice of turning nouns into verbs — ‘I hope to podium in Rio’. So in English usage I am a conservative, if only because it took me many years to develop a feeling for and a decent mastery of the English language.

Having said all that, I am also always interested in the new ‘word of the year’ — the coinage that has attracted sudden fame and use, so that it is recognisable at once, though it hardly existed a year or so ago. The current issue of OzWords, published by The Australian National Dictionary Centre, made me look for the winners for 2015.

The ANDC selected sharing economy, defined as ‘an economic system based on sharing of access to goods, resources and services, typically by means of the Internet’. While I do know of, and have used, the ridesharing service called Uber, which is an example, I have to confess I haven’t yet come across a reference to the ‘sharing economy’. No matter, that’s just a sign of being old and out of touch.

The Oxford Dictionaries chose what I thought was an ’emoticon’, but is apparently an emoji — ‘face with tears of joy’ — as their word of the year. It hasn’t come onto my screen yet, though the older emoticons have, as have their old typing predecessors, like :).

Collins chose bingewatch, which apparently describes the behaviour of people who watch the entire Lord of the Rings, or a whole series of Star Trek, in one hit. I have never done that, again a sign of decrepitude, I have no doubt.

The American Dialect Society chose the pronoun they to get us all out of having to write ‘he or she’, and I will now do the same, with a sigh. I have been reconstructing what I want to write for a decade or more once it became clear to me that ‘he’ meaning ‘he or she’ was going to cause more trouble than it was worth. The way out at the time was to set everything in the plural, so that ‘they’ and ‘their’ referred to ‘people’. The ADS told me also that Shakespeare and Jane Austen used ‘they’ to refer to the singular, so it must be OK!

The Macquarie Dictionary people chose captain’s call as their word of the year, and I knew it, and think I’ve even used it. I felt some relief.

Merriam-Webster, the American dictionary people, chose ism and though that’s not a word, if another dictionary can choose an emoji, what’s wrong with a suffix? Apparently, seven words ending in ism  produced great volume and ‘significant year-over-year increase in lookups’. What were they? Yes, you’ve guessed it: socialism, fascism, racism, feminism, communism, capitalism and terrorism.

The American Dialect Society offered its list of also-rans, too. They included

ammosexual: someone who loves firearms in a fetishistic manner.

ghost: (verb) abruptly end a relationship by cutting off communication, especially online.
on fleek: put together, impeccable, well-arrayed.
thanks, Obama: sarcastic expression in which a person pretends to blame Obama for a problem.
microaggression: subtle form of racism or bias.

Australian runners-up that I liked were

lawfare: George Brandis accused environmental groups of using lawfare to stop particular developmental projects going ahead.

keyboard warrior: a person who adopts an excessively aggressive style in online discussions which they would would not normally adopt in person-to-person communication, often in support of a cause or theory or world-view.

You will note that a lot of these new words refer to and have grown out of communication on the Internet, mobile phones and the like. Whatever happened to letters sent by post? We don’t write them any more. For my part, I only write in longhand when it is important indeed that I do so, as the truly personal communication from a distance. Our society is changing quickly, and our language follows.

Join the discussion 35 Comments

  • spangled drongo says:

    Thanks, Don. Good stuff. BTW, I still think “bedwetter” is very applicable to some of those GBR scientists.

  • Ross says:

    I love Brandis and ‘law fare’. Law fare: Exercising your legal rights in the courts of Australia.

  • Craig says:

    Thank you Don, for your point about the rise of neologisms and nouns-to-verbs. I would add to this the death of the adverb (e.g. I’m writing fast). The mastery of English style is a long, hard road. It has been described as manual labour of the mind. While the vernacular is rapidly invented and fleeting, graceless coinage is an affront to the mother tongue we work so hard to master.

  • spangled drongo says:

    An ever increasing “new” word in the South Australian vocabulary is Genset.

  • dlb says:

    I think delcon should be the new word for 2016, with perhaps delpro used as a bit of a counterweight.

    Speaking of Catallaxy, the delcon commenters over there certainly have a few neologisms for our Prime minister.
    I thought “catallaxy” was a neologism, but apparently it has been around awhile in economic circles.

    • Don Aitkin says:

      Thanks, Peter!

    • Neville says:

      Peter I’ve tried to select states, energy types etc but it doesn’t seem to respond to select button for me.

    • beththeserf says:

      Nuthin’ surprises us serfs
      when reason flies out the door,
      joustin’ with windmills becomes
      the thing, ‘tricky- political’
      rules, raison d’etat, monsieurs.
      – Yours, serfs. not ter reason why.

      A serf post script on language:

      … Serfs are so behind the times,
      ‘thought-crime,’ and ‘news-speak,’ resonates
      with us, ‘war is peace,’ ‘freedom’s
      slavery,’ no -sweat, jest sea-change,
      rich and strange.

      • Don Aitkin says:

        Thanks, Beth. More poetry please!

        • spangled drongo says:

          How about limericks, Don?

          Like the young man from Iran
          Who wrote limericks that never would scan.
          “My trouble, you see” [he confided in me]
          “Is that I try to get as many flamin’ words in the last line as I possibly can”.

          • Don Aitkin says:

            As you write it, not a proper limerick, which should have five lines, AABBA. You need to separate out your third line into its parts. My memory of it is:

            There was a young bard from Japan
            Who wrote verses that no one could scan
            When told it was so
            He replied ‘Yes, I know,
            But I always try to get as many words into the last line as I possibly can.’

          • spangled drongo says:

            Thanks, Don, for the clarification. I did know about the AABBA but I incorrectly included two lines in one from habit of writing other poems that have two rhymes in one line such as:

            The plaintive wails of Yellowtails
            And wattle trees in ruins,
            The secret tracks of Glossy Blacks
            In Torulosa chewin’s.

            I have always been a sucker for rhyme and I think that “modern” free verse without it is over rated.

            Consider if our bush bards didn’t rhyme. Those classics would have died at birth:

            “But where” said I “‘s the blooming stream?”
            And he replied, “We’re at it!”
            I stood awhile as in a dream,
            “Great Scott!” I cried, “Is that it?”

            Paroo River, by Henry Lawson

          • Don Aitkin says:

            The Paroo: Yes, I saw it south of Eulo in Qld close to an abandoned property, now part of a national park. It was two thin tracks of very brown muddy water. But in flood it had required large levee banks around the homestead.

        • beththeserf says:

          Herewith Don, reposted from Climate Etc
          … ahem:

          Of clocks and clouds.

          Clocks yer can wind up.
          Clouds more like
          herdin’ cats, not fleecy
          sheep. GC modellers in
          misty towers dislike
          clouds, they muck up
          their spaghetti graphs
          too much.

        • margaret says:

          Oh, who would be a puddin’,
          A puddin’ in a pot,
          A puddin’ which is stood on
          A fire which is hot?
          O sad indeed the lot
          Of puddins in a pot.

  • spangled drongo says:

    New words often fall from grace very rapidly. Particularly when we can’t afford ’em.

    Remember desal?

    It cost us 20bil thanks to that great Aus of the Year, Flannelpants, and you can hear them rusting away from here.

  • Neville says:

    The EU is staring to panic about the impact of Brexit. It looks like their stupid renewables con will become even more difficult. Couldn’t happen to a nicer mob of donkeys. Brexit is one of my favourite new words for sure,


  • spangled drongo says:

    Then there was this bloke from Australia
    Who specialised in plans to derail yer,
    He was called flannelpants,
    Tops at extracting grants,
    But his predictions an absolute failure.

  • Alan Gould says:

    ‘Aero-nerd’ was one I heard on the phone yesterday, describing folk who are Airshow groupies.

  • PeterE says:

    I’ve often felt that ‘clean energy’ folk just don’t like smoke.

  • Neville says:

    Here is some good news from the IPA. This just backs up what I’ve written about over the last few months. This post shows how much better off we are today and that includes the developing world as well. My links to Goklany, Lomborg, Ridley and our Bureau of stats covered a lot of this, but the graphs are very interesting.


  • spangled drongo says:

    Some interesting new words in the pipeline with the intro of the Safe School Program.

    Orwellian Newspeak a la 2016 for a gender neutral system.

    No more “boys”, “girls”, “fathers”, “mothers”, “aunts”, “uncles” etc.

    So much to learn, so little time.

    • Don Aitkin says:

      SD, I note that this is the sixth comment you’ve made in one day. Please wait until tomorrow before adding any more — and please stick to a maximum of three a day.

  • spangled drongo says:

    Duly noted, thanks Don. My feeble excuse is that I didn’t consider short replies to be comments and I should have combined the two Flannelpants comments. But I do transgress too often.

  • Neville says:

    I’ve just sent an email to Obama’s EIA to ask them how much world energy is supplied by Solar and Wind. Lomborg quotes the EU’s IEA that tells us it is about 0.5%, but it is very difficult to get a proper link to verify this number from the EIA.
    BTW the latest study of the Antarctic peninsula now shows cooling since 1998. Amazing admission after all the nonsense written about this area over the last few decades. Ken Stewart’s latest June pause update also shows overall south polar cooling for the lower trop since Dec 1978.


  • Neville says:

    Don says he was surprised by the cost of SA wind energy under some of the worst scenarios. Yet Paris COP 21 is supposed to mitigate the planet’s CAGW over the 21st century and S&W are supposed to help us achieve this mitigation.
    But when you actually look at Lomborg’s graph on the outcomes of this 21st century mitigation you understand why even Dr Hansen called Paris COP 21 BS and fra-d.
    There is a pessimistic and optimistic line on the graph, but there is very little difference between the two. The best outcome is a reduction of 0.17 C by 2100 and the pessimistic outcome is a reduction of just 0.05 C. He claims the cost over the next 84 years would be 100 trillion for no measureable difference to the planet’s temp at all.
    But nobody is told about these problems and people actually believe OZ will achieve some desirable outcome by installing much more costly and unreliable S&W energy. This is the ultimate super Ponzi scheme fra-d , yet nobody seems to have the guts to call it out. Why is that? Here is Lomborg’s graph.


  • Neville says:

    Peter I’m using Windows internet explorer and Windows 7 Operating system.

Leave a Reply