HANDS OFF MY LANGUAGE YOU CURS
Several years ago, I took an oath. I placed my left hand on my favorite illustrated Huck Finn (the one I grew up with) and pledged to never allow Folksizhome.com to become a soapbox (milk carton?) for political discourse or whatever they’re calling it nowadays. Tweeting, liking, sputum?
Many times I was tempted to disavow that oath, that vow. I will not capitulate. Folks is safe. This very morning, I reaffirmed my vow upon Emily Dickinson and whatever Willa Cather novel I’m reading at present.
Our American English language can be like a serial killer who goes out wearing the personal effects of its copious victims or ancestors. So much vocabulary is permanently borrowed from such sources and rarely do we stop to appreciate or thank those contributing cultures. I learned that in kindergarten.
When we don’t have a word or can’t appropriate one from somewhere else, we will on occasion just make one up, and presto chango alakazam. Words like laser and scuba and NATO fit this bill. There are many more we don’t even suspect to be so. These are acronyms, words formed by the first letters of the words in a common phrase, i.e., “Situation normal all fucked up”.
If the first letter method does not form a new cute word, they might be called abbreviations, such as RSVP, lol, omg, DVM, and my fave, wtf. These are employed as time and labor-saving devices, which is something of a passion around here, but hey, what the fuck.
Sometimes, if really pressed for time and we need a new word bad, we just co-opt an old word and put a new spin on it, a new definition, and hope no one notices or cares. This I find pernicious and corrupt, hence the reason for writing today. This was discussed at brunch the other day.
There are a bunch and maybe a gaggle of words that are tossed around the media-sphere that need to be better attached to their dictionary definitions and less inducted into service for the war against ourselves. If memory serves, Eric Blair wrote something about this behavior.
Some of these words you may know. Some you may sort of know but didn’t bother to look up for accuracy’s sake. I watch more news than the average bear could bear, so I hear these words all the time and wonder if everybody knows what they mean or don’t mean.
My source reference here is a big fat Webster’s dictionary, a big doorstop of a book. If you have a bothersome word from the media-sphere you feel needs to be clarified, get in touch, and we’ll add it to this glossary.
Please note; street lingo slang ain’t a part of this conversation. Okey doke, capiche? Let us proceed…
Caucus – etymology uncertain, probably Algonquin;
A private or secret meeting of members of a political or other organization for the purpose of choosing candidates, deciding upon joint action on pending public measures, or discussing and deciding questions of policy.
Chaos / Kaos – etymology: Greek, not from “Get Smart.”
A confused mass of formless matter and infinite space, without order or form.
Euphemism – the use of a less expressive or less direct word or phrase instead of a distasteful, direct, or offensive word or phrase. i.e.
Euphemism: She rests in peace with the Lord.
What it is: She is dead.
Existential — Existentialism — Nihilism –– These three need to be tackled together, in one inning. Annoying sports metaphors will be for another day.
Existential – Of or based on existence.
Existentialism – A literary-philosophic cult of nihilism and pessimism popularized by J. P. Sartre after WWII. It proposes that all men and women exist as individuals in a purposeless universe and that we must oppose this hostile environment through the exercise of free will. (I likes it!!)
Nihilism – The belief that there is no meaning or purpose in existence.
In politics, the position that all social, political, and economic institutions must be destroyed to make way for new institutions.
Gaslight (verb) – (not included in my 1979 edition of Webster’s)
A form of psychological manipulation in which the abuser attempts to sow self-doubt and confusion in their victim’s mind. Typically, gaslighters are seeking to gain power and control over the other person, by distorting reality and forcing them to question their judgment and intuition.
The term comes from a 1944 film by George Cukor starring Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman about a husband trying to drive his wife over the edge.
“Groundhog Day” – A film, 1993, written by Harold Ramis and Danny Rubin. A story about a man (Bill Murray) caught in a time loop. He wakes in the same situation every day. I’ve never seen it but I mean to. There was a Twilight Zone with Dennis Weaver as a condemned man on death row with the same sort of problem. In our time, it has come to describe a monotonous, unpleasant, and repetitive situation.
Hyperbole – Exaggeration for effect and not meant to be taken literally.
i.e. “the best guitarist ever”
Inadmissible – Not proper to be received, allowed or admitted as evidence.
Inflection (Point) – A turn, bend, or curve. In geometry: the point at which a curve changes from concave to convex or the reverse.
Juggernaut – An incarnation of Vishnu whose idol would make worshipers so nuts as to become suicidal. Currently: any terrible irresistible force.
At Loggerheads – Engaged in a dispute, at variance, to come to blows.
Mendacity (mendacious) – addicted to deception, given to lying. A falsehood.
Narcissism – Self-love, an excessive interest in one’s appearance, comfort, or importance. In Greek myth, Narcissus was a troubled youth who obsessed with his reflection in a pond.
Ombudsman – An appointed public official who investigates activities of government agencies that may infringe on the rights of individuals.
Omnibus bill –A legislative bill containing many miscellaneous provisions, appropriations, etc.
Rhetoric – The art or science of using words effectively in speaking or writing to influence or persuade. Or artificial eloquence, showiness, and elaboration in speech or literary style, the power of persuasion.
Whip – An officer of a political party in Congress, Parliament, etc., who maintains discipline, enforces attendance, etc.
Some Popular Acronyms
NIMBY – Not In My BackYard
RINO – (A misspelling of Rhino(ceros) Republicans In Name Only
MAGA – Make America Great Again
Two other critical words are tossed in the stormy sea. Their cruel fate now is to be dashed on the rocks. Jeez, have you ever read such blather!!
Conservative and Liberal
Conservative – Tending to preserve old institutions, methods, customs and the like, adhering to what is old or established, resisting or opposing change, as a conservative political party. Also – moderate, prudent, or safe.
Liberal – Favoring reform or progress, as in education, religion, etc., specifically favoring reforms tending toward democracy and personal freedom for the individual.
The weight of my dictionary does not make OUR somewhat English language solid. Neither is it in a state of enduring chaos. Rather, it’s kind of fluid, squishy, sticky, and given to fads. So be it. Those who would stand on their laurels and declare what is and is not good English only serve to embarrass themselves. Those who would devolve the language to make themselves attractive to their initiates, only serve to isolate themselves and their initiates.
When language appears in OUR civil discourse, tossed out words of opaque definition, it is incumbent upon us to know what those words mean and what they don’t, OR what they are being employed for and to what objective.
If you don’t have a big fat dictionary or even a little skinny one, look it up on your computer or whatever device you find at hand. As the great-great-grandchildren of the Enlightenment, we should strive to be just that: enlightened. For the life of me, I don’t understand what ‘woke’ is. I know it’s not enlightenment, not the way the Buddha meant it, or John Locke, or Tommy Jefferson.
Our language(s) is/are not necessarily precious, but they are entirely central to OUR civil discourse, so we must not let it be hijacked by those with ulterior motives. In the end, you’re only as good as your word.
Again, if you find me in error here or wish to add some irksome word from the fraught media-scape, just go to the contact page, send it in, and it will be posted right here. Thank you.