Say what? 14 words you ought to know now

August 16, 2018

Is your vocabulary keeping up with the latest in 21st century lexicon—or are your language skills still stuck in the past? At a time when the world is changing more quickly than ever before, Cameron Laux of the BBC has identified 14 words that we all should know how to use in a conversation.

  • Hyperobject: This term was coined by the academic Timothy Morton, who is a professor of English at Houston’s Rice University. It refers to phenomena that are so large and so far beyond the human frame of reference that they are not susceptible to reason. He gives as an example global warming (which he also calls ‘the end of the world’), a phenomenon instigated by humanity, but in the context of which we may now be insignificant.
  • Catfishing: This word describes people who construct false identities online in order to lure contacts into continued messaging or correspondence—thereby building false relationships with them, often in order to fleece them out of their life savings.
  • Woke: As in “roused to political self-awareness,” with the hopeful connotation that one won’t be going back to sleep anytime soon. The term originated during the US black civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s, although the lyrics of the 2008 Erykah Badu song, Master Teacher, have been identified as the most important recent source. The term made a second-wave comeback in 2013, when the U.S. Black Lives Matter movement was born out of the rage inflamed by the shooting death of 17-year-old hoodie-wearing, unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin. From there, the term has been making the short jump to describe other second- (e.g., LGBT) and third- (e.g., #Me Too) phase civil rights movements. The goal is to go beyond feeling tolerated to being fully accepted and welcomed.
  • The new weird: An emerging wave of speculative, “post-human” writing that blurs genre boundaries and conventions, pushes humanity from the center to the margins, and generally poses questions that may not be answerable in any terms we can understand (hence, the ‘weird’). The approach is bleeding into television narratives (see Westworld Fargo, and Legion).
  • Deletion: This word is likely to be bandied about frequently, as social media users absorb the fact that the websites they are on are not just neutral “platforms for social interaction”—but have become an addiction that hooks them and all of their personal data. The only solution is to delete personal accounts.
  • Autofiction: Writing that merges autobiography and fiction; and freely transgresses other genre boundaries, as well. The term was coined in the avant-garde literary world of France in the 1970s, but it has come to be applied to contemporary fiction dominated by the author’s unreliable subjectivity. (The approach also strongly influenced Lena Dunham, the creator of the HBO TV series, Girls, and has given rise to a genre of introspective, navel-gazing television.)
  • Coping, hoping, doping, and shopping: Everyone is picking on poor old capitalism these days, but, perhaps chief among its critics is Wolfgang Streeck, a German sociologist who is the director emeritus of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies. Streeck believes that capitalism is going to experience crashes of increasing severity within the next 100 years, leaving us all to survive with mounting anxiety amidst its wreckage. As a consequence, our life options are gradually being reduced to a regime of coping (getting by, “gigging”), hoping (because we’re human and alive, and have no choice), doping (drugs, alcohol, gaming, social media), and shopping (relentless consumption).
  • Gaslighting: In Director George Cukor’s 1944 film, Gaslight, a man attempts to convince his wife that she’s insane in order to get her committed to an asylum and swindle her out of her money. “Fake news” could be described as a direct descendent of gaslighting—which has become a byword for psychological manipulation.
  • Shadow banking: This term comprises any financial transactions carried out by institutions that don’t have a formal banking license—in other words, payments companies (e.g., credit card companies, insurance companies, PayPal) that are not directly regulated or overseen by the government. We can also add to this the vast dark-financial realm of over-the-counter (OTC) transactions (including derivatives that are almost too complex for anyone, inside or outside the business, to understand) that are technically between two parties and therefore off government radar.
  • Digital design ethics: Referring to the growing “attention crisis”’—the fact that no one can take their eyes off their smartphones—this term describes the integrity (or lack thereof) of marketers focused on engrossing users in platforms on which the main aim is to exploit vulnerabilities in our willpower and manipulate us into buying things. The idea that human rights, should be extended to cyberspace is gaining traction.
  • Post-human: Our identities now extend into cyberspace in many ways—and we no longer merely rely on our brain cells to store memories and information; but now store much of our knowledge in technological clouds that function as extensions of our minds. We live with the corresponding hardware in such intimacy (in the form of portable devicesthat it sometimes feels as oif we are only a few steps away from being “cyborgs” in the true sense of the term.
  • Masculinity: Until very recently, this has seemed to be a straightforward word, with a clear definition—not feminine and not LGBTQ. These days it is increasingly a good thing (and a politically correct thing) to place yourself in either of these categories. However, both are eating away at the old territory occupied by masculinity, and what remains is something of a void, (e.g., “the crisis of masculinity”). The challenge ahead for men is to formulate what they are and want to be, rather than what they aren’t.
  • Generation Why?: This pun used to refer to Millennials, but now applies to anyone born in the digital age.
  • Ghosting: In the 2017 film A Ghost Story, a happy man dies suddenly in a car accident and becomes a ghost. He returns to his family home to linger spectrally under a generic bed sheet with eyeholes cut in it, a ghost of a ghost, and watch helplessly life goes on without him. Hovering in his sheet, he is the essence of loneliness. He is trapped in a supernatural realm, with no human interaction. Maybe the stark truth is that he has been “ghosted.” Nobodyis returning his text messages and he is trapped in digital limbo.

Research contact: @BBC

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