29 November 2016
The new words that expose our smartphone obsessions
Are you a phubber or a smombie? You’re almost certainly a member of the bowed head tribe. New phrases can skewer our smartphone obsessions, says Tom Chatfield
New words sometimes skewer a trend so perfectly you wonder how you survived without them. One of the most delightfully apt new phrases I’ve found in the last few years is a Chinese term: dī tóu zú (低頭族), literally the “bowed head tribe”.
Who does it describe? The people we see every day on city streets – or don’t, because we’re a member of the tribe ourselves – their heads lowered, gazing at their phones.
It’s a wittier, more vivid description than “smartphone addict”. In tapping into the language of social types rather than medical pathology, it also feels a lot closer to our lived experience.
Competing notions of etiquette and appropriate behaviour are bubbling over into everyday speech
Like many social labels, these terms suggest disapproval of their subject, together with a wary recognition that change is afoot. Competing notions of etiquette and appropriate behaviour are bubbling over into everyday speech: an inter-tribal tension echoed across East Asian languages, as the Language Log blog has explored in some depth.