The Write Stuff: In With the New …
By Alan Crawford
Latin has long been considered a “dead language,” but ours — English and American — is livelier than ever. The vocabulary we can draw on when we write reflects how we speak, and for the most part that’s good. Slang makes its way into even formal prose, which is enriched as a result. It becomes more colorful, descriptive and memorable.
Just as some terms we have thrown about thoughtlessly are discarded, new ones come into use. Dictonary.com is including a slew of such new words, almost all taken from the way we talk. Some are clever and amusing and, as such, welcome additions. Others simply reflect changes in how we live.
A nearlywed, for example, reflects a society in which adults aren’t just single or married with no other possibilities. A nearlywed “is a person who lives with another in a life partnership, sometimes engaged with no planned wedding date, sometimes with no intention of ever marrying.”
The fractious state of our politics is a rich source of new terms that we didn’t even seem to need a decade ago. Rage farming, which seems related to trolling or owning, is “the tactic of intentionally provoking political opponents typically by posting inflammatory content on social media, in order to elicit angry responses and thus high engagement or widespread exposure for the original poster.” (Are you listening, Tucker?)
A self-coup occurs when a legitimate government or head of state seeks to stay in office by declaring that an election won by an opponent was stolen — something that could never happen here.
Hellscape. A place that “is hopeless, unbearable or irredeemable.”
Digital nomad. A person “who works remotely while traveling for leisure, especially when having no fixed, permanent address.”
Cakeism is “the false belief that one can enjoy the benefits of two choices that are in fact mutually exclusive, or have it both ways.” This term emerged in Great Britain, apparently, with Boris Johnson’s support of Brexit.
Here we’re reminded of Oscar Wilde’s description of England and America as “two countries divided by a common language.” Some people claim it was Mark Twain who said that, not Wilde, which might just prove how divided we still are.
ANNOYING WORD OF THE MONTH: Community. Leslie Savan, who writes sharp and insightful commentary on media, calls community a “civic-hero word,” like empowerment or giving back. In a culture given over to what has been called “expressive individualism,” where the actual experience of living in community continues to decline, we talk about it more than ever, labeling any group with a shared single characteristic as a community. Community is a feel-good word, as Tony Soprano understood. “It’s not a nursing home, Ma,” the exasperated mob boss told his mother. “It’s a retirement community!”
And, by the way, there’s a group of federal government employees — the Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN) — devoted to the notion that American citizens “deserve clear communication from government.”
PLAIN describes itself as the “federal plain language community.”
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Related Article: Don’t Laugh. This Is Serious.
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