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Word of the Week: 'milkshake'


We take a closer look at the words and phrases that are trending online and in the media. This week: ‘milkshake’.

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This week, a new symbol of resistance has sprung up. It’s not the Extinction Rebellion motif, it’s not the anarchy symbol – it is the humble ‘milkshake’. 

That sweet, cold, calorific beverage has got people talking, and the word nerds here at Speak are, right on cue, doing a bit of digging into what the word dividing the nation actually means. 

The Brexit party leader, and far-right candidate in the European elections campaign, Nigel Farage, was earlier this week sloshed with a Five Guys milkshake (banana and salted caramel flavour, FYI) while campaigning in Newcastle. The 32-year-old man who committed the act (perceived across social media as a hero for some, and a violent criminal for others) said to reporters: “I was quite looking forward to it (the milkshake) but I think it went on a better purpose”. He has since been arrested on suspicion for common assault.

Farage joins the ranks of those who have been victims of ‘milkshaking’ – a new form of political resistance that has been building momentum in the lead up to the European elections. Carl Benjamin – a UKIP candidate and far-right activist – has been covered in the lactic beverage no less than four times this month, while Tommy Robinson, UKIP’s political advisor, has been targeted twice. 


McDonalds in Edinburgh made the decision to stop selling milkshakes following Farage’s attack, while Burger King boldly made their allegiance clear, tweeting: “Dear people of Scotland, we’re selling milkshakes all weekend, have fun!”.

Meanwhile, a JustGiving page has kindly been set up to buy Mr. Farage a new suit to wear down the pub. Perhaps a simple Mackintosh would suffice.

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What does ‘milkshake’ mean?

The definition of milkshake is: “a cold drink made of milk, a sweet flavouring such as fruit or chocolate, and typically ice cream, whisked until it is frothy”. 

It is an Americanism that dates back to the 1880s, when the beverage was initially made with whisky and known as a “sturdy, healthful” drink. By the 1930s onwards the drink became synonymous with soda fountains, American diners – and later, an iconic scene in Pulp Fiction.

It is rumoured that the word itself derived from being served in bars. If the customer enjoyed the milkshake, they shook hands with the bartender. If not, the bartender didn’t get a tip, let alone the hand shake. 

Nowadays, the word ‘milkshake’ often evokes a throwback to Kelis’ 2003 song ‘Milkshake’ – in which she uses the word as slang to describe: “an attribute that makes a woman stand out from the crowd”, or in the case of the lyrics, the act of bringing “the boys to the yard”. 

In 2017 the word reappeared as a neologism, one in the race to be Oxford Dictionaries word of the year: ‘milkshake duck’. 

The word, or character, is used to describe when the internet rushes en masse to embrace someone or something as cute, worthy or funny – but quickly drops it when it is revealed to be, or to have done, unpleasant or complicated things. It sums up the fickle and ephemeral nature of internet fame.

We shall have to wait and see where this ‘milkshake’ mania takes us next, whether that’s to the yard, to some sort of Brexit shake-down, or simply to the dry cleaners. It’s a flavoursome time in British politics. Slurp.

Read more:

Word of the Week: ‘vegetarian’

Word of the Week: ‘throne’