Sunday, May 25, 2014

Careful fangirl, you look like a tweep

What's with this country that we celebrate every scrap of slang we find the way your dog jubilates over some scrap of fish guts it finds on the sidewalk?  The media made a fuss the other day, as it usually does, about some "new words" in the Merriam-Webster dictionary.  No, not the dictionary of slang, if such a thing is to be found these days, but a bona fide dictionary. 

The words are pretty much all bits of transitory slang, used not to be more specific or to describe a new thing, or to be poetic or amusing, but to sound hip -- like you're part of some in-crowd and not the dweeb you are. ( do you need a dictionary for that one?)  If only it were a literary in-crowd and not the kids who hang out around the convenience store dumpster at night inhaling something from a bag. Of course the media itself is a prime source of these elevated words and often simply invents them, like "efforting" or "trending" so as to sound, again, like some kind of in-crowd that knows more than you.

Bits of transitory slang become Cliche of course, when put into the context of a dictionary and though they may have been amusing metaphor, "crowdfunding" now means funding by public subscription as in an IPO, but with a twist, an an edge, an attempt at childlike yet hip wit, which by the fact of its formal inclusion is no longer there. So although a "lexicographer," if I can type that without spitting on my keyboard, thinks "fangirl" is a fitting and suitable replacement for "fan" so it is written and so shall it ever be and thus the mawkish and mouldy line about language having to change becomes the paradigm for fossilization of slang: not a word carved in stone, but the imprint of a formerly living thing impressed into the mud like tire tracks from a Pinto or a stain left by fido on your carpet that you never can quite remove.

Fan of course used to be slang (for fanatic,) as did formerly frowned upon words like phone, but contractions are not what we're seeing so much these days, but rather balbative contortions and portmanteau words, like "glamping" which I heard for the first time today to describe "glamorous camping."  It's use, like so many "new words" is really just a marketing gimmick -- a way to get you to pay big money for a tent at the Indianapolis Speedway infield. The ESPN folks were as giddy as kittens with catnip over that one, but it's not slang and it didn't come from common usage and -- excuse me, it wasn't crowdsourced. (If anyone's looking for a new word for words designed to sell the otherwise unpleasant, what about 'suppository?'

But not only is "selfie" here to stay or carved in stone as it were, we're even still as googly as an adolescent girl with her first corsage and looking to display it as much as possible before it fades.  But it won't, it's "in the dictionary"  and my grandchildren will certainly live to view a "Selfie" by Andy Warhol or Rembrandt at the MOMA or perhaps that Arnolfini Selfie at the National Gallery in London.  I'll bet you've been trying to work "selfie" into conversations for a month now, haven't you?  And I'll bet you think it's still so cute and you sound so 'with it' by using it -- just like you did with that lime green leisure suit you bought back in 1978 to go with your groovy perm.

Certainly they'll live to see a Supreme Court Chief Justice with his baseball cap on backwards and probably long after baseball has disappeared and perhaps a Republican president trailing his shorts behind him like a bride's train just like the kids used to do 140 years ago.  Certainly people will still be chopping up and reassembling words but the more creative will have abandoned them by the time the "lexicographer" adds them to Merriam-Webster, if indeed anyone uses a dictionary instead of searching twitter for "new words" or old words misused and meanings confused.

At least Merriam-Webster recognizes that it's possible to include words that will have to be removed, even though inclusion in these days is almost a signal for excision.  Who even knows what 23 skidoo means or what a Gandy dancer is?  But a lot of trouble could be avoided by a little lexicographical forbearance.  Maybe we should keep slang in a separate place, kind of like the apocrypha or your dirty socks and let it season for a while before sanctifying it because Selfie is already taking on new and less savory "meanings" and who knows, it may be too vulgar for dictionaries your kid might read, if kids refer to dictionaries at all any more -- in which case, never mind.

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