We have racism (1932), sexism (1936), classism (1971), speciesism (1975), heterosexism (1979), ableism (1981). (See this discussion of “ism.”) Now someone is proposing “borderism,” for discriminating against people based on what side of a border they were born in. [Read more…]
The problem with slang is that it goes out of fashion as quickly as it comes in. Few things sound sillier than slang that’s just a little out of date or that is uttered by someone who is not in the group the slang is supposed to define. Ginnie Graham of the Tulsa World looks at words that gained currency in 2012 but that now beg for elimination:
Adorkable – Even with “New Girl” starring Zooey Deschanel on my DVR, this word has to go.
Amazeballs – Adding “ball” to the end of a word does not make it better.
Cray, or cray-cray – As in “You are acting so cray-cray.” I hear that a lot from my 5-year-old, which makes me crazy enough to get rid of it.
Totes, jelly, YOLO, fro-yo and all other shortened words and phrases – “Totes” means totally, “jelly” refers to jealous, “You only live once” and frozen yogurt” are the others. It doesn’t really save any time not finishing all the words.
Mommy porn – So, the “Fifty Shades of Grey” trilogy gave us this dreadful term, once known as romance. Oh, how I miss the sweet Harlequin-inspired descriptions.
Jeah – Thank you Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte for mixing “good” and “yeah” into popularizing this weird one.
Percents – The Occupy Wall Streeters supported the 99 percent and railed against the 1 percent. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney complained about the 47 percent. Math confuses me, so I’m out.
Mains – Refers to a close, tight-knit group of people, such as “My sister is one of my mains.” My sister would also smack me if I said that.
Literally – All English teachers and speakers of correct grammar cringe at Rob Lowe’s “Parks and Recreation” character bastardizing this word. To review, literally means it happened, “I literally turned the channel.” Everything else is metaphorical or figurative.
Actually – Might as well throw this one in, too. Actually is literally just as irritating in conversation. It’s a word overused to speak down to someone.
“Actually, blue is not your color, and I do know the definition of literally,” I said before my sister smacked me.
Artisanal – Some marketing hipster is laughing somewhere that adding this to every food label literally increased sales. Actually, it doesn’t mean anything.
What other words or expressions of 2012 deserve to be banished in the new year?
The new volume of the Dictionary of American Regional English is out, and here are some good words that need to be adopted by the rest of the country (as chosen by Kevin Lamarque at Reuters):
1. whoopensocker (n.), Wisconsin You know when something’s wonderfully unique, but the words “wonderful” and “unique” don’t quite cut it? That’s why the Wisconsinites invented whoopensocker, which can refer to anything extraordinary of its kind—from a sweet dance move to a knee-melting kiss.
2. snirt (n.), Upper Midwest A gem of a portmanteau, this word means exactly what it sounds like: a mixture of windblown snow and dirt. Also, for your linguistic pleasure, try out the adjective version: snirty.
3. slug (n. or v.), Washington, D.C. In addition to describing that shell-less snail-looking creature, a “slug” describes a traveler who hitches a ride with someone who needs passengers in order to use a High Occupancy Vehicle lane. The verb form, “to slug,” refers to the act of commuting in that manner. In New Hampshire, to gee-buck means something similar: to hitch a ride on the back of someone else’s sleigh.
4. wapatuli, (n.), Wisconsin Nearly everyone who has been to college in America has either concocted, or been an unfortunate victim of, wapatuli: a homemade alcoholic drink with any combination of hard liquors or other beverages—Mountain Dew, white wine and vodka, anyone? A wapatuli can also refer to the occasion at which that jungle juice is consumed.
In Kentucky, the (perhaps more onomatopoeically correct) word for terrible liquor is splo, while in the mid-Atlantic, whiskey—especially the moonshine variety—is ratgut.
5. arsle (v.), Kentucky, Virginia, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Arkansas Depending on the state, this word can mean a few things—to fidget, to back out of a place or situation, or to loaf around restlessly—pretty much all of which describe my activities on an average Sunday afternoon. (In Maine, instead of arsling, I might putty around, and in Vermont, I’d pestle around, but either way, it still means not a whole lot is getting done.)
6. jabble (v.), Virginia You know when you’re standing at your front door rifling through your purse for fifteen minutes because you can’t find your keys again? That’s because all the stuff in your purse got all jabbled up. This fantastic little word means “to shake up or mix,” but it can also be used less literally, meaning “to confuse or to befuddle.”
7. sneetered (v.), Kentucky If you’ve ever been hoodwinked, duped, swindled, fleeced or scammed, you done been sneetered. The noun version, sniter, refers to that treacherous person responsible for your unfortunate sneetering. Also see snollygoster, a shameless, unscrupulous person, especially a politician.
8. slatchy (adj.), Nantucket This lovely little word describes the sky during a fleeting moment of sunshine or blue sky in the middle of a storm. The noun version, slatch, refers to that moment itself.
9. snoopy (adj.), Maryland, Pennsylvania A more interesting way of saying someone’s picky, especially with regards to food.
10. arky (adj.), Virginia This word refers to Noah’s Ark, not to Arkansas, so if someone calls your style arky—old-fashioned, or out of style—you can accuse them of being an anti-antediluvianite. (Which, full disclosure, is not technically a word, but should you ever actually employ such a comeback, you will win like a million gold stars in Nerdland.)
11. faunch (v.), South Midlands, West Meaning to rant, rave or rage, this fairly well describes what many Americans have been doing while watching cable news. (Also, try out the phrase, faunching angry, when describing the guy whose parking spot you just snaked.)
12. chinchy (adj.), South, South Midlands Not as direct as “cheap,” and less erudite than “parsimonious,” this useful word perfectly describes your stingy friend who never chips in for gas.
13. larruping (adv.), Oklahoma, South Midlands You know when food tastes so freakin’ delicious, but “yummy,” “scrumptious” and “tasty” just don’t do it justice? That’d be a good time to break out this fabulous word, used most often in the phrase “larruping good.”
14. mizzle-witted (adj.), South This satisfyingly Dickensian word means “mentally dull,” but depending on where you are in the country, mizzle can also be used as a verb meaning “to confuse,” “to depart in haste” or “to abscond,” or as a noun meaning, “a very fine or misty rain.“ So, if you were a mizzle-witted burglar, you might break into a house, get mizzled, trip the alarm, and then mizzle with your loot into the mizzle. Sans raincoat.
15. burk (v.), Georgia, South More fun than the word “vomit” and more polite than the word “fart,” this utilitarian verb describes both activities. Just be happy that if you’re in West Virginia, you don’t get the skitters—an Appalachian version of Montezuma’s revenge.
16. snuggy (n.) Iowa, Midlands Those of us who grew up with older brothers are intimately familiar with what it is to suffer from a snuggy—a friendlier word for a wedgie.
17. jasm (n.), Connecticut Meaning “intense energy or vitality,” the sentence provided in the dictionary was so good, I wanted to share it with you all, too: “If you’ll take thunder and lightening, and a steamboat and a buzz-saw, and mix ‘em up, and out ‘em into a woman, that’s jasm.”
18. mug-up (n.), Alaska When Alaskans take a break from work, grab a pastry or a cup of joe, and gaze out at Russia, they’re enjoying a “mug-up”—their version of a coffee break.
19. bufflehead (n.), Pennsylvania (mountains) You would have to be a real bufflehead if you didn’t think this word, meaning a fool or idiot, is not an awesome insult. Also, for your consideration, the related adjective buffle-brained.
I quote this column on rent control because in it George Will teaches us a new word, one that names a reality we might not have recognized before so as to help us think more clearly:
James and Jeanne Harmon reside in and supposedly own a five-story brownstone on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, a building that has been in their family since 1949. But they have, so to speak, houseguests who have overstayed their welcome by, in cumulative years, more than a century. They are the tenants — the same tenants — who have been living in the three of the Harmons’ six apartments that are rent controlled.
The Harmons want the Supreme Court to rule that their home has been effectively, and unconstitutionally, taken from them by notably foolish laws that advance no legitimate state interest. The court should.
This “taking” has been accomplished by rent-control laws that cover almost 1 million — approximately half — of the city’s rental apartments. Such laws have existed, with several intervals of sanity, since the “emergency” declared because returning soldiers faced housing shortages caused by a building slowdown during World War I.
Most tenants in rent-controlled units can renew their leases forever. Tenants can bequeath their rent-controlled apartments — they have, essentially, a property right to their landlord’s property — to their children, or to a friend who lives with them for two years . This is not satire; it is the virtue of caring, as understood by liberal government.
The tenants in the Harmons’ three rent-controlled units are paying an average 59 percent below market rates. The Harmons would like to reclaim one apartment for a grandchild, but because occupants of two of the units are over 62, the Harmons would have to find the displaced tenant a comparable apartment, at the same or lower rent, in the same neighborhood.
In addition to rent control’s random dispersal of benefits — remember, half of the Harmons’ apartments are uncontrolled — rent control is destructive because it discourages construction of new apartments and maintenance of existing ones.
Thus it creates the “emergency” it supposedly cures.
It exemplifies what the late New York senator Pat Moynihan called “iatrogenic government.” In medicine, an iatrogenic illness is induced inadvertently by a physician’s treatment.
Can you think of other examples of iatrogenic government or iatrogenic relationships or iatrogenic something-else, in which trying to solve the problem creates the problem?
British journalist Matthew Engel complains about how American words–“Americanisms”– are contaminating British English:
Lengthy. Reliable. Talented. Influential. Tremendous.
All of these words we use without a second thought were never part of the English language until the establishment of the United States.
The Americans imported English wholesale, forged it to meet their own needs, then exported their own words back across the Atlantic to be incorporated in the way we speak over here. Those seemingly innocuous words caused fury at the time.
The poet Coleridge denounced “talented” as a barbarous word in 1832, though a few years later it was being used by William Gladstone. A letter-writer to the Times, in 1857, described “reliable” as vile. . . .
American culture is ubiquitous in Britain on TV and the web. As our computers talk to us in American, I keep having to agree to a license spelt with an s. I am invited to print something in color without the u. I am told “you ghat mail”. It is, of course, always e-mail – never our own more natural usage, e-post.
As an ex-American resident, I remain a big fan of baseball. But I sit over here and listen to people who know nothing of the games talk about ideas coming out of “left field”. They speak about “three strikes and you’re out” or stepping up to the plate” without the foggiest idea what these phrases mean. I think the country has started to lose its own sense of itself.
In many respects, English and American are not coming together. When it comes to new technology, we often go our separate ways. They have cellphones – we have mobiles. We go to cash points or cash machines – they use ATMs. We have still never linked hands on motoring terminology – petrol, the boot, the bonnet, known in the US as gas, the trunk, the hood.
Yet in the course of my own lifetime, countless routine British usages have either been superseded or are being challenged by their American equivalents. We no longer watch a film, we go to the movies. We increasingly have trucks not lorries. A hike is now a wage or price rise not a walk in the country.
Ugly and pointless new usages appear in the media and drift into everyday conversation:
- Faze, as in “it doesn’t faze me”
- Hospitalize, which really is a vile word
- Wrench for spanner
- Elevator for lift
- Rookies for newcomers, who seem to have flown here via the sports pages.
- Guy, less and less the centrepiece of the ancient British festival of 5 November – or, as it will soon be known, 11/5. Now someone of either gender.
- And, starting to creep in, such horrors as ouster, the process of firing someone, and outage, meaning a power cut. I always read that as outrage. And it is just that.
I am all for a living, breathing language that evolves with the times. I accept that estate agents prefer to sell apartments rather than flats – they sound more enticing. I accept that we now have freight trains rather than goods trains – that’s more accurate.
I accept that sometimes American phrases have a vigour and vivacity. A relative of mine told me recently he went to a business meeting chaired by a Californian woman who wanted everyone to speak frankly. It was “open kimono”. How’s that for a vivid expression?
But what I hate is the sloppy loss of our own distinctive phraseology through sheer idleness, lack of self-awareness and our attitude of cultural cringe. We encourage the diversity offered by Welsh and Gaelic – even Cornish is making a comeback. But we are letting British English wither.
Britain is a very distinct country from the US. Not better, not worse, different. And long live that difference. That means maintaining the integrity of our own gloriously nuanced, subtle and supple version – the original version – of the English language.
He surely can’t be blaming us Americans. We aren’t making the Brits talk like we do. They are the ones contaminating their own language, if that’s what it is. Which it isn’t.
Actually, what he complains about is the genius of the English language–a hybrid of Germanic Saxon, Viking Norse, church Latin, Norman French, and whatever the far flung colonists of the British Empire spoke–that being the way English has always incorporated other languages, which, in turn, makes it work so well as a world language.
Anyway, to an American, this rant is surely hilarious.
We had an interesting discussion about the post a few days ago about how the blind Puritan poet John Milton contributed more new words to the English language than anyone else. Some people asked questions along the line of “how come he can make up new words and I can’t?” Or “how come he can use words as different parts of speech and my mean old English teacher marked me down every time I tried it?” It was also observed that new words are entering the English language all the time. I realized that the process of coming up with new words is not generally understood. So I will put on my English professor hat and explain. . . .
First of all, there needs to be a need for a new word, a “semantic space” in the language that needs to be filled. Let’s use some of Milton’s words as examples. His day, like ours, had a lot of “worship wars” in the Church of England. The word “liturgy” existed. But, earlier, that was pretty much the only kind of worship there was. There was a need for an adjectival form of that word to distinguish that type of worship from the alternatives. So Milton turned the existing noun into an adjective by adding a Latin adjectival ending. Hence a new word that we use today in our own worship wars: “liturgical.”
An even better, because more poetic, example: The new Copernican cosmology meant that the earth and the planets spin around in a vast void. In Paradise Lost, Milton needed to write about Satan flying to earth. Dante in the Middle Ages had imagined Hell as existing in the center of the earth. Milton imagines it more like another planet. The word “space” existed to refer to expanse, area, extent. Milton took that word and made it refer to the realm beyond earth’s atmosphere. Satan flew through “space.” What great poetry! Imagine hearing that poetic image for the first time. But now we have a new word, one that names something that was nameless before.
This process still continues. New inventions require new words. Like Milton, we to this day tend to go back to the classical languages for help in coining them. “Computer” is from the Latin. “Telephone” and “Television” are from the Greek. (This is why it is so helpful to learn Latin. You can decode just about any English “hard word.”) “Internet” combines a venerable English word “net,” associated with the already metaphorical “network,” to describe poetically a complex set of interconnections. Then was added the Latin preposition “inter.” Voila. We have a new word. “Facebook” combines two existing words into a new one. “Google” takes a whimsical name for a really big number for a company, and then it was morphed into a verb.
It isn’t always clear who the mute inglorious Miltons were (name that allusion) who first came up with the new words that come into existence today. But the process goes back to Adam: God brought creatures to Adam, whereupon he named them.