Tag Archives: language

I Hate The Way You Buzzword

Normcore. YUCCIE. Bae.

If there’s anything the internet deserves bloody death for, it’s the proliferation of words that make me vomit in my mouth.

It’s one of those strangely ironic situations for a writer. We love specificity. If there’s a word best suited for that which you’re discussing, then go to town. It’s wordnerd time, motherfucker.

It’s like that scene in English Patient:

Katharine: l wanted to meet the man who could write a long paper with so few adjectives.
Almasy: Well, a thing is still a thing, no matter what you place in front of it. Big car, slow car, chauffeur-driven car.
Madox: Broken car.
Almasy: lt’s still a car.
Geoffrey Clifton: Not much use, though.

But for a good writer, it’s a sedan or a coupe or a sportster or a hatchback or a jallopy or a wreck or a rust-bucket. It’s not “a car”.

So, specificity — it gets us hot. It’s what we do. Got exact words? A shudder-worthy moment.

Language is a beautiful sonorous thing. It’s not to be sullied by your cheap 5-cent words cobbled together from laziness and the most fleeting of trends. Normcore? We have to have a word now for the way the majority of people dress? He’s in chinos and a sweater, okay? Not “normcore.” When one word covers it all, we turn everything into a homogenized whole instead of celebrating uniqueness.

I don’t know about you, but writing about unvarying collectives able to be encapsulated by a single umbrella word isn’t enthralling for me. That’s the writing equivalent of paint-by-numbers.

People talk now as if language has a seasonal life. Our words we choose are so temporary in nature that we risk being indecipherable to those who find our daily social media transcripts centuries from now. Provided we haven’t climate-changed ourselves into extinction, that is.

beatnik460

Because creatives have never gathered in the city (or worn turtlenecks or toques or hoodies) before: Beat writers and artists at breakfast in New York, late 1950s. L-R: Larry Rivers, Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso (back of head), David Amram, Allen Ginsburg

 

Crimes Against Language: “YUCCIE”

The latest word to explode onto the internet is that of “YUCCIE.” It stands for “Young Urban Creative.”

A news guy I know said, “Yeah, but I sort of felt it needed a word,” about my latest rant on Twitter. Now this is a guy who shares some of the most compelling news I see, too, so I respect his opinion, but this makes my head explode.

Here’s the deal about the Young Urban Creative: It ain’t nothing new. Zero new. Nada di new.

You go back over centuries and the city was always where creatives amassed. They drew together because they needed to have community of others who understood exactly what their passion and raison d’etre is. This remains more true — and more readily found, thanks to the Internet — today.

Creatives, we have a different perspective on the world. It’s easy to feel really alone and forsaken unless we find others who are just as bent as we are.

Look at the culture around Moulin Rouge in the 1890s in Paris, and how it drew the absinthe-loving arts crowd into its fold before spilling out into the world. Look at the Beat writers in San Francisco. Or New York in any age.

Cities are the only place young creatives ever really feel at home. If young creatives are not urban, they’re the exception to the rule. Cities are where artists find themselves, usually, regardless of where they wind up later in life.

But hey, man. It’s the internet age. We need a word for something that’s always existed because it’s 2015 and no one’s got the time to write an actual sentence anymore. Or maybe because it’s not cool enough to just say “creative.” We love to define and codify things.

In Which I Play The Writer/Snob Card

Very seldom will you find me using a term that’s a trendy word. Yes, I’ll go so far as to say it’s beneath me.

This is for the same reason as a film should never be shot with a wardrobe that’s on trend. Have you seen Mystic Pizza, Pretty Woman, or anything else shot in the ‘80s lately? None of it holds up visually because they were all so beholden to the present fashion, trying to look hip, and now it’s dated and sad.

True of language as well. Use anything trendy and it sounds pathetic even before the year is out.

Get over yourself. Being timeless is where it’s at. Don’t fall for the “everything has a buzzword” fad. It’s really okay to use the existing one-million-plus words in the English language. Pretty sure that if you look hard enough, you’ll find what you’re looking for.

If we have a word for throwing someone/something out the window (defenestration), then rest assured, English has you covered.

Defenestration by TrappedInVacancy.

Defenestration by TrappedInVacancy.

This Word, That Word, Any Ol’ Word

I’ve been thinking a lot about language lately; useful if you’re a writer paid by the word. Words count. Every one of them. That’s why we charge you for each.

That’s why, when I watched this opening passage from an episode of The West Wing this morning, this exchange really tickled me. They’re talking about a pianist set to play a concert in the White House.

LEO: He’s North Korean, God knows how he managed to even learn. Their music’s all hymns to the barley harvest, not that they ever have one.

C.J.: To busy reprocessing plutonium to feed anybody.

LEO: Why they’re a rogue state.

C.J.: “Rogue” state… makes them sound bravishly charming. Should be “thug” state; “psycho” state.

LEO: We’ll ask the UN to re-designate.

C.J.: Punk state — that’s what they are, a bunch of punks.

LEO: Bunch of punks, with what could be six nuclear warheads.

(west wing transcripts: here)

There’s a lot of weight behind them there adjectives. Each one changes the matter drastically.

As far as North Korea and the adjectives go, the “rogue” is the Count of Monte Cristo. I don’t mind him, a namby-pamby guy, not scary.

Perhaps if he had asked for assistance with a more well-thought sentence, we wouldn't be laughing at his untimely demise.

The “thug” conjures images of 50 Cent. Not a fan, he smacks of “itchy trigger finger.”

Then, with “psycho,” it’s Norman Bates; translation: “don’t ask for pillow service.”

Finally, you have “punk” Sid Vicious, which I guess makes South Korea their ‘Nancy.’ (Which takes on still more interpretations when you consider the British slang of “nancy.”)

The last three dudes: Ixnay the ombbay, eh?

Exactly who I don’t want to have a finger on The Button.

Speaking of people I don’t want with a finger on The Button: For anyone thinking cultural terms are as interchangeable as Lego blocks, I give you Sarah Palin. The Alaskan village idiot’s speechwriter sure got a lesson in that one when Sarah Palin made her ridiculous hyperbolic claims of “blood libel,” regarding the “target poster: let’s-get-Palin” fall-out after the Arizona shootings.

It’s just another Tea Party attempt to paint her in a Messianic light, but it’s also a cruel insult to Jews, who’ve had century after century of persecution, of which this term speaks, when it’s someone as privileged and plain-Jane white as Palin claiming that brand of persecution. And she’s being persecuted only for her own choice to employ irresponsible rhetoric, too!

Then there’s the recent oh-so-asinine choice to willy-nilly swap out “nigger” for “slave” in Mark Twain’s lamentable “New South” edition of the classic Huck Finn. Like my friend says, such a context-lacking blanket noun switch is completely irresponsible. It ascertains that all slaves are niggers, and therefore all niggers are slaves. Hello?

Word choice is critical. Language is powerful.

Sadly, in an age where everything moves at the speed of light, people take too little responsibility for things said anymore — or too much. Either flippancy precedes everything and words zing across social networks with zero regard for their permanence, or else people are so terrified of permanence that they add very little of any consequence to the dialogue, or they magnify the least relevant detail because of perceived slights in the language.

I realise much of what I’ve said in the past few years can, and likely will, come back to haunt me, but considering the truth in what I try to say, and the standards I hold for myself, I can’t say I have a lot of regrets for putting my truth out there in as choice of terms as I have.

Do I wish I perhaps took the paid-by-the-word attitude of precision when choosing those words? Well, sure, that might cover my ass a little more, but it is what it is.

Sometimes we have to take a bigger-picture look at language. Instead of microanalysing every little word, take the whole of it together.  It’s often akin to a symphony. A piano can do wonderfully on its own, but really has so much more to give when played against, and with, other instruments. So too with any word you offer; they play importantly both ways — solo and ensemble. I like how mine play, either way.

But with so little regard paid to much of what we say these days, I’m afraid that, both ways, we’re often largely at a loss.

When it comes to language, think of words as your tools. Not just any screwdriver will tighten that couch leg when it wobbles, so why are we so given to such casual word choice?

Think. Choose. And then mean what you say.

Maybe then our conversations will offer more of consequence, more to be gained.

Curiouser and Curiouser

As is my custom on Tuesdays, when I’m home, I’m watching television. I had planned to write, but my smarts took the night off, so you’re stuck with a question — or is this an observation? — instead. (Okay, my smarts are fine, but I didn’t feel like ‘writing on demand.’ Sometimes it feels like a job, so I’d rather assume the position until inspiration kicks me hard in the ass.)

Tonight’s menu has included one of my guiltiest pleasures, Boston Legal. During the course of the program, there are a couple escorts included in background banter as William Shatner and Freddy Prinze Jr. chat in a bar.

I watch TV with the closed captioning on, for a few reasons. One of them being that I’m hearing impaired. Yes, you heard it here. I wear hearing aids. Always have. Itty-bitty in-the-ear ones, but they’re there. Such is life. Genetics, they fuck you every time, my friends. The loss is not overly severe, but enough that it cramps my style.

Anyhow, I also have worked in closed captioning, so I’m not deaf by any stretch. Back in the day when I did caption, we always would refer to unnamed persons by their profession first, if known, and if not, then by their gender. These identifications would be used in off-screen IDs for speech when a person wasn’t seen, and in character-specific SFX occurences.

So, there was this sound FX caption — done when action occurs off-screen that is distinguished by sound and is plot-pertinent — of [women giggling]. It was the escorts giggling. Their professions were known: They were escorts.

My question to you is, why wasn’t the caption reading [escorts giggling]? I mean, it was a crowded bar. There were other women. These women, the escorts, it was their giggling that was pertinent to the plot, not that blond ditz hanging off the bar with a Mai-Tai in hand.

Now, fair enough, my captioning house was one of the finest on the continent. My above-average grasp of grammar and such is evidence of that, no? Snicker. Right. Captioning styles vary from house to house, but when you have many, many women in one area and only two of them are pertinent, the tradition is to distinguish them. “Escorts” was the only way to do so, particularly when they had just been introduced to the viewers as “They’re not girls, they’re escorts,” by the always sharp-tongued Denny Crane (Shatner).

I find it interesting that the captioning house in question (the rather uninterestingly named “Closed Captioning Services, Inc.”) has opted to sanitize things for the viewers, when the producers of the program sought specifically not to do so.

But that’s the world we live in. A battle of ethics on every corner, a moral war written on every page. Only who is it we’re protecting from what, and why? Why not call a spade a spade when it is, evidently, a spade indeed?

The scriptwriters call it a spade. After all, the “escorts” are referred to later as “hookers.” A spade is a spade is a spade, it seems.

Is the reality of sex being so readily for sale so offensive that to see the suggestive words themselves written outside of dialogue is somehow even moreso?

Ah, who the fuck knows. We’re going to hell in a handbasket people, and the neocons are doing the navigating. Take a Right up here, folks. There ain’t no turning back now.