Perfectly good words are going bad before our eyes.
Yours truly has been called on the carpet for a usage that crosses invisible lines, raises hoary hackles, sends soaring raptors into tailspins, and makes innocent babies cry.
Your relentless scribe is struggling this morning with a lexical problem that kept him up much of the night.
And no, the problem is not that I’m referring to myself in the third person again.
This all began with one word I will not repeat here.
I’m not going to make that mistake in a public forum and risk being shouted down by the vocal minority that can ruin what remains of my career below the radar.
This now unacceptable word has a literal counterpart that IS acceptable because it has roots that are more casual and less clinical sounding, its etymology more English and less Latin.
Word A means exactly the same thing as Word B.
Yet, Word A is banned—BANNED—for no clear reason other than a certain group representing a tiny fraction of less than 1% of the population deems it incorrect.
It seems that this happened many years ago while I was not watching the newswire for intel on this tiny fraction of the population.
I did not get the memo.
Last night, when I was taken to task by a lovely 20-something for using Word A (which I believed to be innocuous), I was unapologetic.
Again, since I did not receive the memo, I believed the Latin roots I was uttering were innocent of malice.
Oh, no sirree bob.
This morning, bleary-eyed over my coffee, suffering the lingering effects of the low-grade, overnight haunting of vocabularic ghosts, I investigated my transgression.
Indeed, Word A had fallen from favor with the group from which I had learned it. It has indeed been shunted aside for Word B, its more prosaic counterpart.
Word A is now being embraced anew by an even smaller subset of the original tiny fraction of the population because they see it as more appropriate.
They can use it, but we can’t.
So now, we’ve ended up with a perfectly good word gone bad that can be used as good by only a sliver of the self-annointed elite and if one of us in the great unwashed use it, we are to be scorned, possibly stoned, our garments rent and our flesh scourged.
Does anyone besides me see the crime against language?
We’re not talking profanities or racial slurs here.
We’re talking about a word that refers to a manner of dress.
It is a descriptive recognition of an elective condition that is neither pejorative or judgmental.
It’s as if I’ve said, “Ah, you’re wearing green,” and was slapped down, the slapper saying, “We don’t use that word. We say ‘vert.’”
“Vert? That’s French for ‘green.’ It means the same thing.”
“Too bad. ‘Vert’ in. ‘Green’ out.”
“Does it matter that you’re now using a masculine adjective, where the feminine counterpart would be ‘verte’? How does that impact all of this?”
“You’re the spawn of Satan. We’re going to shout you down on social media.”
Rewind to New Orleans, where I was recently at the World War II museum.
Yes, it was New Orleans and no, I was neither drinking nor dancing. I was sober and seated.
I was watching a multimedia presentation about the war. It painted a fascinating portrait of the banding together of people nationwide to defeat a common enemy.
About halfway through it, I began thinking that if WW II happened today, we would never be able to pull it off. To paraphrase Walt Kelly’s famous quote from the Pogo comic strip…
We have met the enemy and he is us using our own language.
Today, we could never make it past the insanity of parsing words that go in and out of fashion like the violently shifting winds of the derecho climatology deep in the heartland of the United States, flinging unanchored mobile homes and splintering old barns with the violent and epic gracelessness of Zeus on a bender.
(Oh. Sorry. Zeus. Cultural appropriation. And possibly dismissive of people who live in mobile homes.)
In our present climate, overarching ideas are subjugated to intense prosecutions of minor vocabulary violations that carry no insidious intent, but pollute an entire message like a stink bomb at a gallery opening.
There’s a conservative pundit who likes to say that the US has become an unserious nation.
What we’ve become is a nation entirely too serious about the wrong things.
At best, it makes us laughable.
It’s only a matter of time before a different, tough, humorless, dangerous nation eats our lunch.
Or maybe we fall on our own inability to tolerate each other.
I hope I’m wrong.
Words good. Gone bad.
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in Park City
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Blaine Parker is prone to ranting about any and all things related to brand. In many ways, he is a professional curmudgeon. While there is no known vaccine for this, the condition is also not contagious. Unless you choose it to be so.