Friday, January 01, 2010

New Words

Reading here, The Lake Superior State University 2010 List of Banished Words.
They dislike; tweet, app, friend as a verb, shovel-ready, toxic assets, stimulus as in stimulus package, teachable moment, transparency in terms of public access, czar, bromance, sextexting, chillaxin', In these economic times, too big to fail, and Obama-prefix-suffix.

It's odd that I should be more flexible than a bunch of college kids . . .  but I actively like about half of these.

Tweet, app, and 'friend as a verb' are all cases where new technology has created new behavior. We need words to describe a new world.
These delight me.
I am especially pleased that the old, old word 'friend' is not weakened by this new use.

I'm also a fan of technical jargon.

Now, I may not be fond of 'deplane' or 'preboarding', which are about as ugly as words can be, but most technical jargon -- 'boot', 'baby-catcher', 'WIP', 'malware', 'just-in-time', 'shrinkage' -- is wonderful. Working people create useful, thumping, earthy, in-the-field, kinda words.

While I haven't come across it myself, shovel-ready strikes me as one of these useful terms. It's colorful and clear. I can think of several phrases that mean the same thing, but not a better single word.

Toxic assets -- technical jargon -- comes from those hands-on economists-in-the-field. Toxic asset has a limited and specific meaning. Why spend ten words describing this concept when two will do? I can't understand the objection.

Stimulus, when reffing the Stimulus Package components, is also technical jargon, and useful in that narrow technical sense. It's confusing when anyone applies it beyond that immediate and specific usage. I wish they had come up with a more distinct jargon word for the bill.

Teachable moment, OTOH, is pseudo-jargon. It's 'invented' jargon introduced by folks whose job is not to do work, but to write about doing work and invent jargon for it. Bad phrase. Bad Bad.  Nauseating language.

Transparency is not a new word, of course, but a hazy and poorly defined usage of a lovely old one. That haziness is deliberate. Transparent is the word we use to speak of public access when we do not want to use words like honesty or openness.
Not an admirable word in this guise, but a useful one that has no exact replacement.

Moving to those words and phrases I agree we could do quite well without ...

Czar, to mean 'maven' or 'head honcho' or 'high muckety-muck', was apt in its early use, wearisome now that it has become diluted and routine. We will eventually have Parks and Recreation Czars in every small town. Refreshment Committee Czars at the church social.

I wish this usage would just disappear. I have many wishes about words. If wishes were horses, I would  be trampled to death every time I opened a book.

Sextexting will, I believe, disappear as a redundancy. Sexxing, however, is here to stay. Bromance will be, thank God, temporary. Metrosexual will probably last. Chillaxin' became dork-speak immediately after coinage. This will not be recognized by the people who use it.

Catch phases like, in these economic times, too big to fail, and Obama-prefix-suffix merely remind us that folks who write about politics are not very original. This flock of honking geese will fly overhead and be replaced by the next lot.


  1. Anonymous5:33 PM

    This made me laugh - especially the line about chillaxin'. It also reminded me of the funny words kids come up with. One of my students told me she liked eating 'extraovers' after Thanksgiving. Happy New Year!

  2. I also liked this for the same reasons, Anonymous. And since you're an educator, you well understand the sentiment about "teachable moment".
    Happy New Year to all you JB fans!

  3. @anon --


    Now that's funny.

  4. I'm afraid the field of education has more than its share of babel ...

  5. The thing that irritates me about 'friend' as a verb is that we don't need to invent it at all. There has been a perfectly good verb, 'to befriend', in use for many years which has exactly the required meaning.

    Hah! Word verification: sulking.

  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

  7. Hi ros --

    And 'befriend' is a fine old word.

    But the operant perception here may be 'old'. 'Befriend' is a fuddy-duddy of a word. An Aunt-Martha-who-wears-the-fur-wrap-with-little-beady-eyes-in-it of a word.

    It's not . . .
    (jo searches her mind for a word meaning 'cool' that is not as hopelessly dated as 'cool' and keeps coming up with stuff like 'twisted')
    . . . cool.

    There is this also;
    'befriend' comes trailing old-fashioned connotations of giving aid and comfort.

    'I'm friends with Beatrice,' means 'We're both in Mrs. Coots math class.'
    'I befriended Beatrice,' means I committed to doing something for her. I helped her.

    I suppose I do deplore the further weakening of the fine old word 'friend', but a lot of the juice has already been sucked out of 'friend' by changes in the way society works.