American Vernacular Spectacular 2016
by the Village Idiom
It’s been two years since our last update on the American lexicon. New words and usages are appearing almost daily, because languages evolve like any other living thing. I’ve tried the best I can to keep up because it’s my passion. As I may have said before, it goes back to my father reading Dr. Seuss to me when I was little, and I’ve been a word junkie since.
I suppose the best place to start is with the ubiquitous computer and internet, by far the biggest influence on our lives. We’ve kind of absorbed the new lingo by osmosis through repeated usage; the web, tweets, selfies, and such. Text used to be a body of words and still is, but it’s also a verb now. We “follow” more people than we interact with. Tagging used to refer to spray painting graffiti on a wall (since it’s a form of writing, why wasn’t it called graphiti?), but now refers to hashtagging an item or meme. I just recently figured out that app is short for application, which shows you what a good college education can do. A more recent term in the last year or so is clickbait. Can’t imagine a more depraved sex act than this? Click here. The newest I’ve heard is only months old, and seems to say it all: screenagers. That’s called a neologism, forming a new word by combining other words. There’s a new book I intend to read, Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now, by Douglas Rushkoff. He has coined the word ‘digiphrenia,’ as the state of being in two places simultaneously, as when you’re out with friends, but you’re also texting someone.
Lifestyles, like careers, have their own lingo understood perhaps only by those within the tribe. The advent of the electronic cigarette, or e-cig, brings its own language with it. An analog is a regular cigarette, since e-cig people consider “vaping” to be digital. Nic, batt, and cart are short for nicotine, battery, and cartridge, respectively. ANTZ are anti-nicotine and tobacco zealots. A pull is a drag, a blank is an empty cartridge, and so on.
Physhing, for those who don’t know, is just a new form of an old con. Someone calls, emails or puts a window up on your computer. Urgent, very official, they’re trying to get your personal info and/or money. I just heard “ableist” for the first time last week. It’s like racist or sexist; an ableist is someone who discriminates against the disabled (see Republicans). Some new usages merely substitute a new verb for an old one; uptick for increase, or unpack for explain. Can you unpack that for me?
Do you know what offloading is? Originally it meant getting rid of something by passing it on to someone else. It also refers to the practice of laying off workers, then dumping their workload onto others, who already have a workload of their own. Remember during Bush’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, those “enemy combatants?” The latest Dept. of Defense guidelines mention “unprivileged belligerents.” That’s a label field commanders can give to journalists “suspected of sympathy or cooperation with the enemy.” Quite a gray area, there, I would think. Oh, here’s one that celebrates Orwellian newspeak. Notice that when you open a bag of chips or box of crackers, that it’s half empty? Ad men have a term for that, too: non-functional slack fill. That sounds to me like a lot of people in Congress.
Speaking of that, you should also be advised that politicians no longer flip-flop on their previous statements. They have “evolved” on the issue. This goes back a ways. I remember that Barack Obama, during his 2008 presidential campaign, said he believed in marriage between a man and a woman. A few years later, bending with the weight of public opinion, he said his views on the subject had evolved. And good for him. For us liberals, evolution is a good thing.
No other area of our language has evolved faster than that with regard to gender. I realize I’m about to step into a minefield here, so I need to tread carefully. When we were kids we heard about homosexuals, who we called homos or queers. The two sexes wanted their own identities, and became gays or lesbians. Bisexuals were a part of the community, too, and so were transvestites, and more and more these days, transgendered people. Hence the term LGBT, to which Q has been added, meaning either queer or questioning (“Everything is queer today!” said Alice). That’s only the surface. Shall we plunge in? There’s an ever-expanding vocabulary of various ways of expressing one’s gender identity: cisgender, pangender, amalgagender, intergender, genderqueer, non-binary (?), heteronormative (?), and gender fluid, to name but a few. As far as I can tell, I myself am cisgender, (cis, L., ‘on this side of’) as I identify my gender as male, matching my genital, uh, disposition. At the same time, I sometimes suspect that I’m actually a lesbian trapped in a man’s body, but that’s alright. I’m still working on non-binary, but I think it means being more open-minded about other people’s gender identity. I hope that’s what it means.
We see new language develop organically with political movements. With feminism came the new coinage “herstory,” as a statement condemning patriarchal thinking. One might wonder why they didn’t use “hystory,” from the Gk. root hystera, womb, but the word hysteria also comes from it, a supreme example of patriarchy. The newest iteration, by the way, is “hxstory,” the term thought to be more inclusive.
Microaggressions are supposedly unintentional slights, such as “That’s a pretty dress. Was there a tent sale somewhere?” Have you heard of “vocal fry?” It’s when someone’s voice sort of trails off at the end of a sentence or phrase, and there’s a little crackling. It really irritates some people. If you want an example of permanent vocal-fry, listen to Fox News’ Neil Cavuto. I hope it’s nothing serious. These days we still recycle, I hope, but we also repurpose. Overcupensating is the latest word for upselling, but it can also be a form of braggadocio. There’s a new expression in the last few years that I really love, giving someone the “stink eye.” It’s so much more evocative than giving someone a dirty look. The humble brag is a new form, an example being your friend lamenting that it rained for the entire two weeks of his vacation in Cabo. Plexing is buying one ticket in one of those cinema multiplexes, then sneaking into other movies free. To vulch is to hang out over someone’s shoulder, I like it. Skunge is the goop made up of hair, dead skin cells, and soap that collects on the bathtub drain.
Lots of our new words are neologisms, as I mentioned above, a combo form of old words to give a new meaning. When Greece was thinking of leaving the EU, it was called the Grexit. On June 23rd, Great Britain will have a referendum on leaving, so that’s the Brexit. Bankster has been around awhile. Wreckonomics is actually a play on Reaganomics, but more accurate and descriptive. In my first two years of college I was a slackademic. We’ve had activists since the Revolution of ’76. We still do, but we also have hacktivists, fracktivists, and even kayaktivists, as we saw last year in Seattle.
Many new usages blur the line between neologism and new coinage, like ‘nagavator,’ a back seat driver. The Washington Post’s Style Invitational is an annual event in which they ask readers to invent new and descriptive words, and I’m happy to provide some of the entries.
Arachnoleptic fit — That’s the frantic dance performed after walking into a spider web.
Reintarnation — Reincarnating as a hillbilly. This one’s been around for decades.
Intaxication — The euphoria at getting your IRS refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to begin with.
Bozone — A substance surrounding stupid people which prevents bright ideas from penetrating.
Ignoranus — A person who is both stupid and an asshole.
Hipatitis — The state of being terminally cool.
Dopeler Effect — The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.
Sarchasm — The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the recipient who doesn’t get it.
Maybe you’ve invented new words yourself. Please share them with me. I’ve come up with a few, like cattitude, which cat people will understand, but I doubt I thought of it first. My webmaster is sort of a mystic. I call him my nonsensei, which is not to say I think mysticism is nonsense; far from it. But I liked the idea of attaching ‘I,’ or the ego, to nonsense. Until next time, keep your ear out for new words and usages, which as I said, are appearing almost daily.