The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, first held in 1996, returned to the USC campus last weekend after a two-year Covid hiatus. Because April 22 through 24 was also the final weekend of this year’s Coachella Music Festival, held 130 miles away in Southern California’s Colorado Desert, someone—maybe the person in charge of the Times’s Twitter feed—decided it would be cute to call the literary festival #Bookchella.
And just like that, -chella became the new -stock: a portable suffix denoting “festival.”
Except it wasn’t exactly “just like that.” And watch your back, LATFOB: the music festival in the desert has a history of refusing to give up its -chella without a legal fight.
I don’t remember anyone calling it #Bookchella in 2019, when I attended, but that already feels like 50 years ago, so who knows.
It’s always something here on the West Coast, isn’t it? If it isn’t wildfires—thankfully not a major problem last year—it’s flooding, if it isn’t flooding it’s earthquakes, and if it isn’t earthquakes it’s … a volcanic eruption? Not here, but close enough—5,300 miles away, off the coast of Tonga, one mile below the ocean surface. It was massive enough to trigger tsunami advisories throughout coastal California and to cause surges in places like Santa Cruz and Pacifica.
One of many permanent tsunami signs in San Francisco.
Stuck on high ground, I did some research into the language of tsunamis, and soon discovered the word of the week, meteotsunami, which was new to me. More about this word a little later. First, though, about tsunami. The word is, of course, borrowed from Japanese; its deceptively mild literal meaning is “harbor waves.” I learned from the OED that the transliterated word first appeared in an English-language text in 1897, in a collection of stories by Lafcadio Hearn titled Gleanings in Buddha-Fields: “‘Tsunami!’ shrieked the people; and then all shrieks and all sounds and all power to hear sounds were annihilated by a nameless shock … as the colossal swell smote the shore with a weight that sent a shudder through the hills.”
It’s Word of the Year season, and two British dictionaries are leading the pack. Collins picked lockdown – a word we threw around here in the US but never experienced the way they did in the UK and elsewhere. (A friend of mine is literally confined to her London apartment after spending a month in France: she can’t go outdoors at all.) And Oxford Languages, publisher of the Oxford dictionaries, chose a phenomenon instead of a single word: the impact of the COVID-19 on language. “What struck the team as most distinctive in 2020 was the sheer scale and scope of change,” Katherine Connor Martin, the company’s head of product, told the New York Times’s Jennifer Schuessler. “This event was experienced globally and by its nature changed the way we express every other thing that happened this year.”
“Social distance”: sign in an Oakland produce-store window, May 2020.
The wildfires have barely been extinguished here in California, but it’s already word-of-the-year season across the pond, where three prominent dictionaries chose words or phrases with a common theme: climate change, or preventing it. Cambridge Dictionary went first, with upcycling: “the activity of making new furniture, objects, etc. out of old or used things or waste material.” Collins Dictionary chose climate strike: “a protest demanding action on climate change.” And Oxford Dictionaries picked climate emergency from an all-environmental shortlist that included “climate action,” “climate denial,” “eco-anxiety,” “extinction” and “flight shame.”
Let the record show that lexicographer Jane Solomon, recently of Dictionary.com, spotted the trend back in September.