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Omnishambles

A rather splendid word entered the UK political lexicon in 2012. It was uttered in the House of Commons during Prime Minister’s Questions on 18 April by the Labour leader of the Opposition, Ed Miliband. He called the coalition government of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats an omnishambles because of several serious policy and public-relations blunders, including some unexpected consequences of the Chancellor’s budget of the previous month. The Daily Mail commented that omnishambles “described the combination of tragedy and farce that characterises modern politics” and the word has been gleefully taken up by many commentators, some even in the Conservative press.

It began life in The Thick of It, a satirical BBC TV series about Westminster politics created by Armando Iannucci. It was said in an episode in October 2009 by the foul-mouthed government head of communications Malcolm Tucker, played by Peter Capaldi, though he meant by it one particular person’s incompetence in everything she did (“you are a fucking omnishambles, that’s what you are!”).

The word appeared a few times following the broadcast but Ed Miliband’s use set it trending, as they say over on Twitter. Its instant popularity was indicated through a number of compounds that were soon coined, including omnishambolism and omnishambolic.

Omnishambles. It is a great word to encapsulate the government’s serial misjudgments and misadventures, from granny taxes and petrol panics to the boomeranging budget and Theresa May’s lost day. ... Does this mark a significant turning point or is it merely a passing blip? It doesn’t look like a blip — certainly not a fleeting one. The government has been in a state of omnishambolism since the budget more than a month ago.

The Observer, 22 Apr. 2012

The term omnishambles had become part of the political lexicon. While ministers publicly deny the similarities between life in Whitehall and Armando Iannucci’s acclaimed political satire The Thick of It, weary Downing Street insiders believe the portrayal of a spin-obsessed government pouring salt into wounds caused by shots to their own feet was all too painfully accurate.

Independent on Sunday, 29 Apr. 2012.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 5 May 2012

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/turnsofphrase/tp-omn1.htm
Last modified: 5 May 2012.