…but how did the word come about?
The word ‘Brexit’ has been included in the Oxford English Dictionary within five years of being coined, a timescale the dictionary describes as “highly unusual”. The speed with which it became widely used and recognised was impressive, fuelled by the fact it filled a huge empty space in our language, and the growing importance of the phenomenon it described. But who created it?
According to BBC News, the OED awarded this honour to Peter Wilding, the founder and director of the British Influence think tank who campaigned for the UK to Remain in the EU in June’s referendum. He wrote about “Brexit” in May 2012, eight months before the then Prime Minister David Cameron had announced he would be holding a referendum.
“Unless a clear view is pushed that Britain must lead in Europe at the very least to achieve the completion of the single market then the portmanteau for Greek euro exit might be followed by another sad word, Brexit,” he predicted.
Reflecting on being first to use the term, he says: “I had no idea but got a phonecall a couple of months ago from the Oxford English Dictionary. “It certainly gives one the moral authority to say what it means.”
Mr Wilding took his inspiration from Grexit, the term used for Greece’s possible exit from the eurozone.
“In January and February 2012 it was all about the Greek crisis,” he said. “It didn’t take a great leap of faith to replace the G with a B so that’s how it came about. It’s one of those odd things that crops up in life, I had forgotten all about it, so when I was told I found it amusing.”
There’s no doubt it’s come in handy. Imagine if he hadn’t invented the word and we had to repeat ‘the (proposed) withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, and the political process associated with it’!
Unsurprisingly, within just a few years, the word Brexit would be used by everyone from the Prime Minister down as the name for the largest political event in the United Kingdom’s recent history. It was even repeatedly used by Donald Trump during his successful US presidential campaign.
It could have all been so different…
Brexit was far from set in stone, and faced early competition with an alternative version featuring the following month in an Economist article predicting that “a Brixit looms for several reasons”.
The term was far from being set in stone and in the early days faced competition from an alternative term – ‘Brixit’. In August 2012, investment bank Nomura made waves when it warned the City in a report that a “Brixit” was “increasingly likely”, while the same term was used in a Daily Mail column urging: “Bring on the ‘Brixit’.”
But Brexit prevailed, although it was another three years before its use really took off.
Brexit fast gained international traction too as foreign language newspapers used it on their front pages to report on the referendum, knowing that their Italian, French and Polish readers would understand. By late 2016 it was a global word.
And not only did it spread, it reproduced. Just as Brexit itself had developed from Grexit (a blend of ‘Greek exit’ to describe “the (potential) withdrawal of Greece from the eurozone monetary union”), other words such as Brexiteer began to appear. The portmanteau word has even led to spin-offs with members of the opposite camp termed Bremainers and, somewhat unkindly, Remoaners.
With the pound falling, France eyeing our financial services crown and the promised billion pound savings vanishing overnight, I suspect many who voted for withdrawal from the EU will soon be feeling Bremorse.