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The green symbolizes all the money you'll save.

The green symbolizes all the money you'll save.

Profiting off Pandemic Panic

By Sam Linton

So I was talking to a friend of mine the other day when he dropped a knowledge-bomb on me. Apparently, the Powers That Be are attempting to change the name of current global pandemic media darling Swine Flu into something a bit less descriptive. Why? Because the negative connotations of that name have had a corresponding negative impact on global pork prices. That’s right, it appears that the name “Swine Flu” has turned people off of swine. Whoda thunk? Now, I generally strive to avoid being topical in these Lexipoeia columns (I want them to have a timeless quality), but something like this hits home for me as both a general promoter of the powers of language and as an advocate of opportunistic consumer slacktivism. So when I see them intersecting like this, I know it’s time to come down from my ivory tower and get topical. Read the rest of this entry »

Lexipoeia: Taxonomy Time! OR Douchebags Defined

Posted by lifestyle On February - 20 - 2009

Answering the questions you purposefully didn’t ask!

By Sam Linton

Every so often, the language-using community gets itself up in a snit over some new issue in our beloved English language making waves in the pools of those who actually take all this seriously. Remember truthiness? That was a good example of what I’m talking about. Anyways, since the English language lacks an “Academie Français”-style central regulating body, these things usually just get tossed around from columnist to columnist until some basic consensus is found. So what’s the hot-button word that has the armchair linguistic community up in a tizzy now? Douchebag! Or, at least, it was several months ago. I tend to be a bit slow on the uptake when it comes to covering these things. But, as the world keeps spinning, I eventually find my way to writing, and the problem with douchebag has not gone away. So what’s the issue? Well, that’s a bit tricky, but it basically boils down to the fact that, while it’s one of the most commonly used insults flying off the tongues today, it has no real “definition,” per se. Ask any average person what constitutes a douchebag, and you’ll get a different response. Go to Urbandictionary.com, and you’ll be swamped with seven pages of differing defs. Even Wikipedia can only offer that douchebag is definitely pejorative, and somewhat associated with arrogance and/or malice. But we can do better! Can’t we? Read the rest of this entry »

Lexipoeia: Offensive Content?

Posted by lifestyle On July - 29 - 2008

Answering reader mail is so gay, it’s retarded.

By Sam Linton

This week, against my better judgment, I’ll be doing something a little different in Lexipoeia: responding to reader mail. Now as a near omniscient voice of authority in the Lifestyle section (and, frankly, in most aspects of life), I like to believe that I have all the answers. Nevertheless, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I have all the questions. Thus, it sometimes falls to me to have you, the readers, tell me what to weigh in on, as in this little gem of a letter I received recently:

Dear Sam “Lexipoeia” Linton,

What is your position on the use of currently re-popularized terms “retarded” and “gay”? My own position is that using the terms is immature and obnoxious. However, I find the terms far more offensive when they are used to prop up old stereotypes — i.e. “Tommy doesn’t play hockey? That’s totally gay,” or, “Catherine failed physics, what a retard.”

How do you feel about the re-popularization of these terms?

Thanks,

Completely Anonymous Reader

Obviously, my first impulse was to fire back a response along the lines of “Hey there ‘friend,’ do see the words ‘write-in’ anywhere on the masthead of this column? If I wanted reader input, I’d ask for it, okay?” Then maybe I’d have the MONDOgoons teach our anonymous reader a little chin music, just to smarten him or her up. (Yes, I’m not afraid to send goons to beat up dames. I’m hardcore that way!) I mean, really, the audacity! Telling ME what to write in MY column?! And that thing with the name of this column as my nickname in quotations? That’s WAY too overly familiar, Completely Anonymous Reader. Over the line. I don’t let just anyone start dropping nicknames on me, okay?

So anyways, after I’d cooled off, done some tai chi, and punched a hole through my drywall (the UNMITIGATED GALL of this person!), I had to admit, the anonymous bastard had a point. This IS, after all, a legitimate area of lexicographical inquiry. So where do I and, by extension, the MONDO Lifestyle section, stand on it?

Conditionally, and independent of their use in stereotype reinforcement (which is a different kettle of fish, as it involves more the content of what the words are expressing than the words themselves being used to express said content), I am pro-”retarded” and anti-”gay” (but not, you know, “anti-gay.” The Lifestyle section supports ALL lifestyles, just like the Beastie Boys). This is not an arbitrary choice, however. As with every decision I have ever made, it is linguistically sound.

What makes the pejorative use of the term “retarded” more acceptable than the same use of “gay”? On the surface, both uses seem to use the further marginalization of already oft-stigmatized groups as a means of mockery. Why would this be okay? As with all questions linguistic, the answer goes back to the roots of the words; in this case, how each came to be applied to each of these marginalized groups.

For the term “gay,” the way by which the word came to be associated with homosexuality was in terms of self-labelling. Traditionally, “gay” was a term reflecting happiness, and not denying their homosexual urges made these “proto-gays” happier than a life of self-flagellation ever could, ergo they adopted the term “gay” to refer to themselves as a newly liberated group. It was a term of self-congratulation. The term “retarded” though, as used to refer to those of poorer-than-average cognitive abilities, has different origins. Originating as a word to apply to anything that has had its development “held back,” retarded as a term was applied to those with sub-mean IQs in the late 19th/early 20th century by proto-eugenicists seeking to isolate the “genetically inferior.” In this sense, one term has been appropriated by a marginalized group to refer to themselves positively (much as the same group would later re-appropriate “queer”), while the other has been imposed on a previously ignored group for the specific purpose of marginalizing it, making each term quite a different kettle of fish.

So why does this make “retarded” the more acceptable term, in a pejorative sense? Simply put, it started out that way. “Retarded” was never used in anything but a negative way, first to label ideas or concepts, then to label those thought deserving of stigmatization by implying that their intellectual development had been hindered, or “retarded,” leaving them in a child-like state. (Linguistic side note: this same process may have helped give the term “cretin” its current negative connotation. Originally, it derived from the French term for “Christian,” implying that, while this person may seem stupid to you, you are both equal in the eyes of the Lord, so watch your mouth, buddy! Later, it got completely turned around.) The term “gay,” on the other hand, is self-applied, and to give it a negative spin is to attempt to completely re-connotate the meaning of the term, to shift the meaning from “something that makes one happy” to “something that effeminizes and/or weakens.” UNACCEPTABLE! To say that an idea or concept (but NOT, as I noted in the intro to this Lexipoeia, a person) is “retarded” is actually to take the term back to its original meaning, which is to say “not fully developed.” And really, is that not the essence of any stupid idea? That it hasn’t been fully thought out? Lots of potentially great ideas are actually stupid, simply because of a neglected detail in the thought process. Is it not right to say that these ideas are “retarded,” in the sense that their development has been impeded by a cruel reality unwilling to acknowledge their potential awesomeness? This is different from pejoratively calling something “gay,” because to do THAT not only completely divorces the word (gay) from its ORIGINAL context, but serves only to stigmatize a group by associating them with a perceivedly negative thing.

To sum up: derogatorily saying something is “retarded” is fine, because it’s actually, in a sense, taking back the original meaning of the term. Derogatorily saying something is “gay” is not fine, as it actively seeks to stigmatize gay culture. Good? Good. Hopefully, this has answered Completely Anonymous Reader’s question, and (s)he will never feel the need to bother me again.

So until next time, remember: it’s a living language, let’s keep it that way.

Just don’t start bothering me about it.

[Do YOU have a linguistic inquiry that needs addressing? Send your letters to "Lexipoeia," c/o Samlinton@MONDOmagazine.net! –ed.]

Lexipoeia: The Proper Terminology of “Pimp”

Posted by lifestyle On May - 23 - 2008

By Sam Linton

Saluton, language users! It’s been a while! But, as language continues to exist and expand, this column remains.

You know, keeping up with colloquialisms is hard business. In the early days of any word, its meaning is mutable, ever-changing. Usually, it’s best to just let things set, to let a word find its proper meaning in its own time. It worked for “pwned,” it worked for “burnsauce,” and it worked for “23 Skidoo,” so why rock the boat? However, there are certain occasions when a truly unique word, one with the potential to fill a certain linguistic niche, risks losing its certain special connotations in this process. In times such as these, it becomes necessary for the lexicographical community to take a heavy-handed, top-down approach to re-imposing meaning, lest we risk losing the connotations that make a word so extra-special. Now may be one of those times. My friends, we are in danger of losing pimp.

How to begin? Why is pimp (the adjective, not the noun) so important, so absolutely critical to capturing the zeitgeist of modern life? We live in a time of abundance, a time of plenty, a time of joy; the internet allows us to send videos of talking cats to absent friends halfway around the world, an almost transcendent oversaturation of images ensures that we are all constantly entertained every waking second of every day, and an inexhaustible supply of oil, the world’s greatest and most renewable natural resource, ensures that it will all be around forever. It’s all just so damned much. So, in this age of excess, how can we tell when something has gone too far? How can we draw the line at what’s crass, when nothing is sacred? When does too much become too much? As is usual with most questions like this, we can look for our answers on the fringes of society. Specifically, the most over-exposed, over-indulged fringe of society in the past decade, the pimps and the CHUDs. Or maybe just the pimps.

Yes, it’s no big secret that in this day and age, pimps are our barometers for the things that are just too outrageous, too classless, and just too stupid to be taken as anything other than a slap in the face to common sense and decent judgment. Except increasingly, it seems as though we’ve forgotten that. I keep hearing kids on the bus (Ks.o.t.B.) using the adjective “pimp” as though there’s no shame attached, no stigma. And that’s just wrong. How did we reach a point when what is possibly the most exploitative, debasing “job” in existence could be taken at face value as “cool?” I don’t know, I’ll leave that problem to the sociologists [editor's note: do YOU want to write sociology for MONDO? Submissions are now being accepted!] My problem is that, minus a certain stigma, the term “pimp” as an adjective devolves into being just another synonym for “cool.” And I can’t let that happen. I won’t have another “awesome” on my conscience.

Let me break it down to ya: Something that is “pimp” is, from an objective standpoint, cool. This is a fact. But what these kids today are missing, and what no usage of the adjective “pimp” should be without, is that this cool only exists in the most abstract, intangible, theoretical sense. Once the “cool” of a pimpin’ idea collides with reality, anything remotely cool about the concept becomes drowned in a sea of politics, context, and practicality that renders the idea at best inane and at worst, offensive. That, my linguistically inclined friends, is the essence of the adjective “pimp.”

Let’s examine it, shall we? Linguistically, what is “pimp?” For my answer, I turn to Marc Antony, or rather, his fictional portrayal in the HBO series Rome, for giving me my favorite example of a pimpin’ idea bar none: a lion-drawn chariot. Let’s think on this, shall we? At first, how cool is this idea? A chariot pulled by lions? That is so goddamn badass! But now, let’s put the idea into a real-life context: it’s terrible. Lions aren’t domesticated! They won’t pull a cart for shit! Plus, they’ll probably try to eat the first person to aggravate them, i.e. try to drive them. And thus is the essence of what is “pimp:” something that seems cool until you think it through. Like a character with swords for arms, or a subwoofer that’s so loud you can hear it for, like, a whole city block and you just know that the guy driving that stupid fucking Honda Civic is going to be deaf before he’s 30. Stuff like that.

Kids, don’t say “pimp” like it’s a cool thing. It’s not, it’s really not. It’s impractical, shortsighted, and harmful. And this is the meaning of the word that we, as language users, need to take back. A sunset is not “pimp.” Nor is a bird in flight, the smile of stranger, or the laughter of an infant. Hell, a red Camaro isn’t pimp, and neither are shuriken, art deco designs, or Mons Meg, the oldest cannon in Scotland. These things are all legitimately cool and/or good. What pimp is needs to be re-marginalized, for the sake of the word’s integrity. I am not against the use of this word; given its proper meaning, “pimp” has a descriptive strength that no other word can match. “Snazzy” doesn’t quite capture the disreputable quality described by pimp, “tacky” misses the inherent cool-at-a-glance quality which describes pimp’s surface, and “misguided” simply isn’t colloquial enough. Pimp has a role. But it must be allowed to play it. It’s the only way that it can truly live up to its own potential.

So remember, it’s a living language, let’s keep it that way!

(Except, you know, when we have to actively step in and stop certain developments from taking place.)

Lexipoeia: Tinfoil-Hat CanCon Edition

Posted by lifestyle On April - 22 - 2008

The CBC is stealing my ideas!

By Sam Linton

Well, we all knew that it was high time for me to start writing another Lexipoeia. It really has been too long. And oh, I had the beginnings of a beauty this week, to be sure. But what should I hear as I turned on the CBC Radio Friday morning to start my day with the fresh voices of Sounds Like Canada? A language piece. But not just any language piece, oh no. A piece on the revival of old, abandoned pop-culture expressions. Hey, sounds like a winning idea, right? A Canadian institution running a piece on hilarious expressions of yesteryear that have fallen by the wayside? Yeah, and it was a great idea — when I first wrote it! Sounds Like Canada, eh? Sounds like plagiarism to me! Now, a lot of people would be justified in saying that the readership of MONDO does not contest that of the CBC’s audience, that the concept of linguistic revival is really quite broad, that my article and the CBC’s rip-off job actually examined quite different sources for the expressions they took, and that my accusing a government organization of stealing my intellectual property speaks more to my own delusions of grandeur than it does to any legitimate grievance. But these people would be wrong. The CBC is stealing my ideas. Period.

If you ask me, it’s high time that somebody did a Cross-Country Checkup on those thieves at the CBC, because what they’re doing is Definitely Not The Opera, but rather blatant theft! It’s like they’ve been listening in to my thoughts on a Wiretap! Oh, I’m sure that the CBC has it’s own explanations for this baldfaced robbery, and in this Age of Persuasion the company with the most resources is bound to get its message out more effectively than the little guy. But mark my words, soon the CBC’s entire Tapestry of lies will come crashing down around it, and it will Spark enough anger that their entire system of lies will run Madly Off in All Directions! Just you wait! (Yes, that last show has been cancelled for two years, but I couldn’t think of a satisfactory way to work in its replacement, The Debaters).

Needless to say, this blatant intellectual property theft has me a little rattled, so please excuse me if this column comes off as being a bit truncated. It’s just that when one’s own government begins to turn against them, the experience can be jarring (American readers will know what I mean. Today, we are as brothers, my Southern friends). So yes, normally, when I do these “vocabulary builder” columns, I like to go for at least five entries. However, as of this Friday, most of my vocabulary has consisted of barely-coherent railings against the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, so bear with me. The following is an abbreviated list of revived and/or recontextualized terms to take English to the next level. I know, I’d have liked the list to be longer, too. But hey, blame the CBC, not me (while you’re at it, blame ‘em for canceling jPod, too). And now, the list.

Künstleroman: Students of literature will no doubt be familiar with this term. A German word, künstleroman describes a narrative in which the central character’s development as an artist is chronicled, from humble beginnings to artistic maturity (German-speakers will also know this word). It also makes a great expletive! Seriously! Sounding Risque-ly enough like the much dreaded “C-Word” to function effectively in the expletive world, as well as possessing both a hard first syllable and an ending you can use to trail off into dark muttering, küntstleroman also holds a hidden optimism which makes it a truly wonderful expletive for those minor, personal tragedies that necessitate swearing in the situations of the everyday. Stub your toe? Künstleroman! Miss the bus? Künstleroman! Künstleroman, by definition, says that even though you have experienced temporary adversity and are frustrated by it, ultimately these experiences will serve to shape your character into a stronger one, to the benefit of your life and your art.

Doubloons: I can hardly take credit for this one, but I can damn well try and popularize it! No, this one goes out to the crew of the anti-sealing vessel Farley Mowat, as well as the author of the same name. The full story can be read here, but basically it sums up to this: anti-sealers in a boat named “Farley Mowat” were arrested in international waters, prompting the real Farley Mowat to post bail money for them. To commemorate the folly of this arrest, the organization responsible for the anti-sealing protest took Mowat’s $10,000 bail money and converted it into toonies before posting it as bail, likening the bail money to a ship’s ransom in “doubloons”. This incident got me thinking, though: why “toonies?” I had never really considered the name of the Canadian two-dollar coin before now, but why must our two-dollar terminology be a slave to our one-dollar name? Especially when we have terms like “doubloon” at our disposal. Think about it; doubloon practically already has “double” in its name, so it’s not a stretch at all to link it to the two-dollar coin. Also, should Canada ever fulfill its long-held pipe dream of incorporating the Caribbean islands of Turks and Caicos into itself, the name “doubloon” would act as a signal that Canada as a country is ready to embrace a Caribbean, as well as northern, identity. So let us all take a page from the book of Farley Mowat (Never Cry Wolf is a good one, but Sea of Slaughter is just so appropriate for doubloons) and take back the toonie!

Crummy: Ultimate thanks for this one go out to the writers of Futurama for incorporating this word into the dialogue of Turanga Leela, but really, I have to thank my friend Neil for introducing this into his everyday speech. Crummy is a perfect counter-word for a world operating in extremes. It is so mundane, so bland that it is only justifiably used under the most mundane of circumstances. It’s like a revival word from a simpler, duller time, when the greatest thrill one could expect of life was to eat a banana and life’s greatest disappointments were butter-churns that leaked. Crummy is a word with the power to scale back and minimize, almost trivialize, any situation. For that reason, we have to take it back, and fast!

Well, that’s it for now. Hopefully, the CBC considers itself sufficiently “warned off.” Still, I have the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach that I’m destined to turn on Q later this week to hear Jian Ghomeshi talking about how crummy it is that his doubloons don’t go as far as they used to, but that the adversity builds his character as a broadcaster. Ah well, such is the price of being me.

Until next time, it’s a living language, let’s keep it that way!

(But not at the expense of credit where it’s due, The CBC!)

Lexipoeia: Continental Drift

Posted by lifestyle On February - 18 - 2008

Two Nations Divided by a Common Language, and About 100 Years of New Songs and Dances

By Sam Linton

Take that, Queen.Asalaam Aleikum, Language users! Y’know, I’ve gone on record as a being a big fan of the English language (see previous columns in this series), but even I recognize that it has its problems. Problems like standardization.

You see, one of the central problems in having a truly global language, spoken in multiple countries over multiple continents, are those little discrepancies that occur over distance. A word may be spelled one way on one continent, but slightly differently on another. Specifically in the case of English, there are two elephants in the room: Britain and the US, two cultural juggernauts speaking the same language with subtle variations in spelling (also, pronunciation, but we can chalk that up to accents).

Sure, the differences are cute, almost endearing now, giving each side the opportunity to look down on the other for being either overly simplistic (The US, in British eyes) or stuffy and old-fashioned (Britain, to the Americans). But mark my words, if we allow these lapses to continue, it’s only a matter of time before the entire language system breaks down, and reading something written on the opposite side of the Atlantic devolves into a Chaucerian nightmare of counterintuitive spellings, antiquated words and incomprehensible dialects. And that, my friends, is where we come in.

We here at MONDO make no secret of our Canadian origins; it’s part of who we are, probably. Maybe. Could be. In any case, part of what that being Canadian is all about (linguistically speaking) is negotiating a delicate tightrope walk of spelling, balancing our geographical proximity to the US with our historical/cultural ties to our Queen across the waves. It is for this reason that I believe that it is up to us, as Canadians (non-Canadian readers: keep reading! I’m not specifically trying to exclude you, and you bring a unique perspective to reading this article) to make the hard decisions for the benefit of the language as a whole.

Which words should be globally standardized under British spelling, and which under the American? Sure, it’s a tough job, but in the immortal words of Colin Meloy, “Someone’s got to do the culling of the fold.” If not us, then who? The Australians? I’m not even going to dignify that with a response.

Thusly, in the interest of this national project, I have taken it upon myself to assemble some preliminary suggestions at standardization. I would take this opportunity beforehand to remind my readers that, despite my erudite articulation, I am by no means any sort of linguistic authority, and nor do I hold any advanced degrees in the arts or sciences (yet). I am merely a young man with an abiding interest in wordsmithery, making my choices based purely on what “feels” or “sounds” right. Bearing that in mind, here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

Honor/Honour (or any or/our ending):
British Spelling Let’s just get the or/our thing (what some would argue to be the largest difference) out of the way right off the bat: the “ou” wins because of how it looks. Maybe it’s just me, but I associate the or/our ending with some pretty weighty words, conceptually speaking. Honour, Valour, Armour. Words like these deserve the air of nobility and gravitas offered by that extra “u”. It wouldn’t mean squat to me if someone offered up their “word of honor“, but a “word of honour” is an unbreakable bond. Plus, I think that the actual pronunciation is better expressed through use of the “u”, so that’s another mark in the “British spelling” column.

Theater/Theatre (or any other er/re ending):
American Spelling I’ll be honest: I like the look of the “re” ending more, but looks alone are not enough to base a decision on, and every rational bone in my body (my brain counts as a “rational bone” for the purposes of this metaphor) is telling me that “er” makes more sense. After all, if we’re not speaking French, why are we trying to spell as though we are? The fact is, in the English language, “re” is pronounced as “ruh”, so unless you honestly say the word as “theatruh”, the American spelling is the only one that makes sense. To quote Lisa Simpson, “It may not be pretty, but dammit, it’s honest!” (Episode 95, “Lisa vs. Malibu Stacey”. Yes, I’ve seen them all). So, though my sense of pretension objects, the American spelling proves truer.

Civilization/Civilisation (or any other instance of s/z confusion):
American SpellingThis one was just easy. If you’re going to include a “z” in your alphabet, this is the exact type of buzzing sibilant you want to have it around for. Otherwise, what’s the point? If you drop the “z” from a word like “Civilization”, then you may as well chuck the whole letter out the window! Then what? Next thing you know, you’ll be taking the kids out to the “Soo” to see the “Sebras” and the “Chimpansees!” I’ll tell you right now, that’s not the kind of world I want to live in. For the sake of the letter zed’s continued existence then, it’s clear how we have to proceed with this one. We don’t even have a choice, really. And while I’m on the subject:

Zee/Zed:
British VersionI know that I might take some heat for this one, having been told even by fellow Canucks that the whole “zed” thing is foolish and outmoded, but it just has to be (don’t you see)? Sure, calling it a “zee” is fun at first; I’m sure that children the world over all prefer singing that zany, fun-sounding “zee” at the end of their alphabet songs over the dull, leaden sound of a hard “zed”. But it is precisely this “fun” quality that makes “zee” so dangerous: it lets kids think that language is something there to amuse them, like some kind of damned game! Call me paranoid, but I believe that there is a direct correlation between the use of “zee” early in life and sloppy spelling on the internet in later years. And from there studies have already proven the link between sloppy internet spelling and gang activity, drug use and lax sexual hygiene (I feel no need to link these studies, you readers just take my words on faith). For the sake of the children, then, “zed” is the clear choice. Call it a moral imperative.

Season/Series (specifically regarding their use in TV production schedules):
American “Spelling”Okay, okay. This has nothing at all to do with spelling, and by even trodding this road, I’m towing the line on the whole “elevator/lift,” “truck/lorry” slanguage/language distinction, which is frankly none of my damned business. But I simply couldn’t let any Britain/US word discussion go without mentioning this. I’m assuming that you’re all familiar with this distinction, but just in case one of you isn’t, a year’s worth of television in the US is called a “season,” while in Britain it’s referred to as a “series.” This is ridiculous. Britain, you have a great cultural history behind you; Hell, maybe even ahead of you. But the US freaking invented television. Doesn’t it stand to reason that they should have a say over the terminology? Don’t feel bad; you still have a legacy of poetic, theatrical and literary terminology to call your own, but let the States have television. You guys still make some quality programs (Black Adder! Extras!), just label them correctly.

Okay, good.

Hopefully, I’ve solved the language gap forever now. I’d like to take this time at the end of my column to encourage all my British and American readers to adopt my suggestions; just put aside your nationalistic cultural pride and accept that you’re doing something for the greater good. To my Canadian readers, I pass the torch and, with it, the burden of pruning the language. Should you come upon a word with different American and British spellings, it is now your job to make the executive decision: which should stay and which should go?

It’s a mighty task, but we have to shoulder the burden. Not just for ourselves, but for future generations! Courage! And for my English-speaking readers in other countries, you guys should… umm… take five, I guess. Sit back and have a brew while the Canadians, Brits and Yanks sort themselves out. Then go with whatever we decide. Trust us, we know what’s best. Don’t you worry your pretty little heads about nothin’. We’ve got it all under control.

Finally, to all my readers, regardless of nationality, remember, It’s a living language; let’s keep it that way!

Lexipoeia

Posted by lifestyle On January - 8 - 2008

Lexipoeia
2008 Word-of-the-Year Pre-Roundup

By Sam Linton

Aloha, y’all! Well, 2008 is finally upon us, and after all of the hype, I’m a bit disappointed. Linguistically speaking, that is. Merriam-Webster, great publisher of “words of the year” lists, who in 2006 famously legitimized Stephen Colbert’s version of “truthiness,” has come out with their picks for 2007’s words of the year and the best that they could come up with was “w00t”? A word that I can remember using as far back as 2001, when I was still playing Starcraft, for God’s sake?! Now, I don’t know if the fault lies with Merriam-Webster or with the English-speaking public at large, but great new words on the rest of that list are also few and far between. Granted, “facebook” does have its rightful place there, especially as a verb, and “sardoodledom” is so old and quirky it can be new again, but the rest of those words are just so pedestrian that they hardly merit mentioning on a “year’s end” list (with the exception of “Pecksniffian,” which sounds good, but is really just a stupid word without much practical application. Not like sardoodledom at all).

However, 2007 is the past and 2008 has not yet gone into full swing, so there’s still time to save this year with a bunch of handy new words, expressions, etc., that will hopefully make aught-eight more like aught-six, linguistically speaking. Now, this is just a handful of suggestions; as always, I encourage, nurture, and champion efforts by my readership to enliven the language with their own contributions (my email is always active for reader contributions, by the way). But hopefully, these much needed few’ll get the ball rolling (as well as get integrated into common everyday speech, which is the goal for any words ever presented in this column).

TVD: Okay, why are people not saying this? How long have DVD collections of television seasons been in the popular consciousness? How many conversations have you had in the past year alone involving the watching of entire seasons at a time of television through the magic of DVD collections? (If you’re me, lots!) Yet people still use the antiquated “TV on DVD” instead of the much more streamlined “TVD”? Outrageous! Granted, “TVD” doesn’t technically stand for anything per se (Televised Video Disk?), but it’s catchy, easy to understand, and refers to a culturally relevant movement that currently lacks a proper terminology, so for 2008, TVD is an absolute MUST!

Internaut: Adopted from the French “internaut(e),” a blanket term for a user of the internet. Arguably a less needed word than “TVD,” as there are many current synonyms for net users (including “net users”); the archaic “websurfer” or “surfer” can still be legitimately used in describing someone who uses the internet primarily as something to be consumed, while the more current “netizen” tends to refer more to those who contribute something to the web community at large, be it through blogging (2004’s Merriam-Webster word of the year), forum posting, or what have you. However, as a blanket term for all of these groups, I would suggest the more lyrical “internaut” over the prosaic “net user” just because I think we’ve arrived at that stage of net-usage. We’re a lot more fluent in our internautical pursuits now, and the language ought to reflect that.

Terror-(blank): It’s been long enough now that “terror,” once seen as a legitimate social concern and valid excuse for the suspension of various civil liberties, has simply melded into the background noise of everyday life (this has been a gradual process, beginning about 2004). It’s time for an ironic appropriation! For 2008, I say make “terror” the new “eXtreme”! Add an edge to even the most humdrum of activities by infusing them with the exotic energy of religious extremism. Don’t just “mow the lawn” — give the lawn a “terror-mow”! Why “go shopping” when you can go “on the hunt for the terror-deals”? And “sleeping”? That’s for people who haven’t heard of “taking a terror-nap”! If we can get the ball bouncing on this one, 2008 won’t just be a good year, it’ll be (say it with me now)�terror-iffic!

P-Hone or P’Hone: Pronounced either “pee-hone” or “puh-hone,” this word replaces the previous “phone” and is admittedly the least needed word on this list. But how cool does it sound, eh? Imagine, if you will, a world in which, rather than simply “calling someone on the phone,” you “terror-ring them on the P-hone”; wouldn’t that just rule? Perhaps I’m just a dreamer, but I have always imagined that I could one day live in the greatest of all possible worlds, and if I can legitimately use the phrase “terror-ring on the P-hone,” perhaps then that day has finally come, or will finally come this 2008.

Well, that’s all I can come up with now, but it sure beats “w00t.” Can you do any better? Until next time, it’s a living language — let’s keep it that way!

Lexipoeia: Stoppit!

Posted by lifestyle On July - 16 - 2007

Pure Alarmism!

By Sam Linton

Greetings, loyal linguists! Once again, I have returned to offer my sage advice on all things wordly. Before you get all fired up, however, I’m afraid that I have some bad news to impart: this one will not be a column about advancing the language. Quite the opposite, in fact, as I have unfortunately found it necessary to rein some of you in the speaking community in, in (in!) a segment I call “Stoppit!”

Stoppit!

First, a confession: as you may have guessed from the fact that I author a column on how to talk good, I come from a distinguished line of language sticklers. We all in my family have our little linguistic pet peeves: my father’s is those who confuse “much” with “many;” my mother’s, those who pronounce the word “nauseous” as “nautious” (naw-shuss). I used to think myself free of this familial curse — nitpicking was for nitpickers, and I picked no nits! Those days, however, are lost to me now, for I have found my own nit, and a picky one it is at that. I speak of course, of the inexcusable interchanging of the word “can’t” for “won’t.”

Let me explain: when I’m not writing these columns, being academically lauded or attending movie premieres with television starlets (clue: think Smallville), I work in the capacity of a restauranteur (or something similar) where I see this linguistic sin enacted almost daily. Now, not to harp on the vegans, but they’re the ones who tend to be most guilty of this: instead of saying that they “won’t” eat animal products, there is a tendency among this group to say that one “can’t” eat animal products. Now, the reason that I find this so annoying is not ideological, but linguistic. Every time that can’t is used for won’t, it cheapens the meaning of can’t, until it’s brought down to won’t’s miserable, cowardly level. Not to be alarmist or hyperbolic, but if a trend like this continues, the results could be… deadly.

Suppose, say, for the sake of argument, that you are an underpaid, underappreciated kitchen employee of Christopher P. O’Happyday’s Good Time Family Foodstuffs Emporium who has just been told, after already grilling up a veggie burger that you know to contain cheese, that the customer “can’t have dairy.” You’ve already made the burger, you have twelve other orders to process, you really dislike your job anyways, and you get enough vegans bugging you about what they “can’t” have before you make the order, so you say to yourself, “Fuck it. What Vegan McJones don’t know won’t hurt ‘im.” And you let the burger go. Oh no! It turns out that Vegan McJones wasn’t vegan after all, but rather someone seriously, lethally lactose intolerant and your dairy-infused veggie burger has killed him or her in the most internally gruesome manner possible, leaving all seven of his or her children orphans, their other parent having perished in an auto-accident the previous week! If only, if only, you hadn’t been conditioned to think of the word “can’t” as being interchangeable with the word “won’t” through repeated exposure in an incorrect context! Alas!

What we need, then, is a campaign of awareness. Look at your own language patterns. Do you know the difference between these two highly different words? Look at your own cognitive patterns. Can you differentiate between physical impossibility and ideological imperative? Can you translate this difference into your everyday speech through proper use of “can’t” and “won’t?” (Or possibly, “can” and “will?”) Can you get others to do likewise? Yes, you’ll be a perpetual nag, but you’ll be saving lives and, more importantly, saving words! Two words are in rapid danger of entering a crippling merge that will diminish the meaning of both and doom many allergy-afflicted people to grisly deaths on the filthy floors of fast-food chains! Readers and speakers, we cannot allow that to happen. Until next time, remember — it is a living language, but if we don’t act, some of us may not live to speak it.

Lexipoeia: Engsperanto

Posted by lifestyle On June - 4 - 2007

This article does NOT advocate cultural Imperialism. No, really!

By Sam Linton

Esperanto is a constructed language, designed to facilitate communication across cultures through its use of several different linguistic features found across several different families of language (Slavic, Indo-European, etc.) More can be found on in the wiki article, but I warn you, it is a dry read.

Esperanto is also, to put it bluntly, a failure.

Wikipedia’s source, one professor Jouko Lindstedt, estimates its speakers at anywhere from 100,000 to 2,000,000 people. For a language designed to facilitate communication across a globe of more than 6 billion people, this is nothing. More people have seen the Youtube video of talking cats than can speak Esperanto at the highest estimate of speakers. For something to facilitate cross-culturally, it needs to already have some type of base and appeal, and I would argue that the best language to take Esperanto’s ideal role is English. Hell, even cats can speak it.

Interestingly enough, the idea for this article came out of one of the many fascinating conversations I periodically get into involving spelling. Did you ever wonder why some words follow “I before e, except after c” and some don’t? No, the culprit isn’t global warming, it’s foreigners! Apparently, because of its unique linguistic history, being bounced around between language groups such as Celtic, Latin, Germanic (a bunch of times), and then Latin (French) again with the Norman invasion, English borrows rules from all these groups, forming a delicious, linguistic goulash.

And then there’s imperialism; yes, British colonial rule left a legacy on the world which continues to breed social inequality to this day, but they did pick up some nice words while they were at it. For example, did you know that the word “cummerbund” was “borrowed” (stolen) into English from Hindi in 1616? (Thank you again, Wikipedia) Yes, this can be seen as the hidden legacy of colonialism, the fashion accessories of high society reflecting the economic exploitation of the lands under colonial rule, but it also carries in it the English language’s fine tradition of incorporating new words from new sources into its own structure, whether suffering through wave after wave of seaborn invaders or doing a little seaborn invading of its own.

And it is this tradition, minus the ravages of colonial exploitation and its earlier predecessor, Viking-style piracy, which I believe leads English to be the best choice for an eventual, world-unifying language, uniting us all in brotherhood and harmony à la Star Trek, and not only because it’s my language. Practically anywhere English is spoken alongside other languages, you see this wonderful tradition, as each language bleeds into the other. Just look at Canada’s own “Franglais”, or Southern California and probably other places in the U.S.’s “Spanglish” (a much less elegant name; they couldn’t have chosen “Engspañol?”)

Anyway, it’s already the world’s Lingua Franca (Again, thank you Wikipedia, for giving me a source for this other than “out of my ass”) for business, communication, etc., so it’s already taken over Esperanto’s expressed purpose. All we really need to do is let it continue on in this fashion; with the wonders of the internet, English and English-speaking internauts have access to any number of languages from all over the world, and it is their, our duty to take any words we like and make them into English words. Like “internaut”, for example; that’s French, but it works well in English, because the French liked the word “internet” enough to make it their own. This is exactly the type of cultural back’n'forth I’m talking about: the kind that makes it so that one day, it won’t matter if you’re speaking English, French or Mandarin because they’ll all be pretty much the same. English just has the most experience in this type of thing.

Until next time, it’s a living language — they’re all living languages — let’s keep them that way!

Lexipoeia: (Filthy) Words of the Past!

Posted by lifestyle On April - 16 - 2007

Swiving language from behind.By Sam Linton

Hey there, y’all! Yes, I know that it’s been quite a while since my last Lexipoeia entry, but I’ve been busy. Yes I, your humble scribe, am also a university student, and occasionally that must take precedence over my internet-writing duties. But never fear! I have returned, with a cornucopia of filthy words to make both Miss Torrid and Dr. Smoothmoves blush and hide in shame.

Now, I know that many of my readers may be puzzled by this. “But Sam,” they ask, “didn’t you promise to respond to readers’ word queries in your last column, written so long ago?” No. No, I did not. If you check the archives, they’re lying. I NEVER said that I would respond to reader mail. Now, on to the column!

So then, in the course of my studies, I have been busying myself with a plethora of 18th century literary texts, and, with the glee of a schoolboy looking up dirty words in an unabridged dictionary, I have been putting aside the very best words to have fallen out of common usage (blame the 19th century for that) for re-use in this, the 21st. These are all words we need, people! Here now, is the list:

Mopus: Okay, this is the least-needed of the words I found. It’s also the least filthy. It’s basically a synonym for dullard, but with a mopier connotation. I am only including it because of my personal penchant for words with Latin endings, especially insults. Just ask anyone who’s been on the receiving end of one of my “dumbus”, “Cretina”, or, worst of all, “foolicus” put-downs – the stiff rigidity of a Latin ending can put someone in his or her place, but good!

Oyster: Now on to the filth! You wouldn’t think it, but this seemingly ordinary shellfish has a rather racy connotation attached to it (you know, aside from the numerous other racy connotations attached to oysters that you already know). You see, back in the 18th century, an “oyster” was used to indicate a woman of a low employ, one who was not a prostitute, but was likely to turn tricks to make ends meet. Now, isn’t this the exact word we need in today’s society? A word denoting not a dedicated, but a potential prostitute? Think of how enriched the hip-hop genre alone would be with a word like this! We need “oyster” back, and fast!

Spend: Another alternate usage for a common word, back in the day “spend” was a common synonym for “ejaculate” (semen!). It can still be found in this usage today, but generally only in the past tense (spent!). However, I would argue that, given the current consumerist culture in which we live, we need “spend” as a synonym for “ejaculate” more than ever! We’d have filthy double-entendres for everything!

Swive: Now we’re getting back into the genuinely unused! Swive: it sounds like “dive” but it’s actually a synonym for the act of sexual intercourse! Well, actually, it was generally used only from the masculine perspective, so its sounding like “dive” may be no coincidence! In a modern sense, I think this fills a needed void in synonyms for the verb “to fuck”, in that, unlike “to nail” or “to screw”, “swive” has a much more vibrant feel to it, full of what the French term joie de vivre (many English speakers also use this phrase). Rather than the mechanical action invoked by the previous two terms, “swiving” seems, just by the feel of the word, more of an artistic, liberating act. Also, it employs an “s”, the most sexual of all letters. Just look at all the “s” words: Sexual, Sensuous, Sultry, Semen, Servix, UnSircumSised, Sam Linton. Swive is a must in the current vernacular.

And finally, Strumpet: this one may not be as unfamiliar to the modern reader, and I know I’ve heard of it. Basically, it means “slut” but its sounds like “trumpet”! It’s a slut trumpet! Actually, screw reviving strumpet, let’s go for “slut trumpet!” It’s like a regular slut, but really loud and musical? Or maybe it’s a musical instrument that gets all the sluts up in oneself? Whatever, either way, I think “slut trumpet” is a winner! Are you listening, Dr. Smoothmoves and Miss Torrid?

Until next time, remember, it’s a living language: let’s keep it that way!

Lexipoeia: The Columnist’s Dilemma & eLexicography

Posted by lifestyle On February - 18 - 2007

Giving English a friendly push!By Sam Linton

Okay! Wow! Well, it seems that my last article in this series was particularly well received, in circles extending even slightly beyond my immediate network of family and friends. Yes, apparently cuntwaste is the word we all needed. Neat!

But now, I admit, I’m worried. If I want to keep “Lexipoeia” going as a semi-regular column, does that mean I have to come up with that type of brilliance all the time? Can I do that? What if I try and fail? What if I try, succeed, and then everyone hates me for being a prat? If only there was some way, someone I could pass the buck to on this thorny issue, some type of… readership, perhaps?

Of course! The readers! Why, I’ll bet they (you) have loads of brilliant ideas on the future of the language. Maybe they’ve (you’ve) come up with them in conversation, on a blog, in a poem (do not send me your poetry), but they’d (again, you’d) like a semi-professional critique on their (I’m going to stop with these parenthetical asides; I’m sure you/they get the idea) new word or turn of phrase.

So here’s the deal: You come up with the word/turn of phrase you want popularized, I’ll give the helpful, linguophilic commentary and maybe suggest a few tweaks. I’m not saying that my opinion is of a higher value than yours, but hey, I am the one writing the lexicographical column here, plus extra exposure for your new contribution to the language can’t hurt, right? Just send an email to samlinton (at) mondomagazine.net with “Lexipoeia” in the subject line. Be sure to spell it right, because I won’t read misspelled emails. Being on the internet is not an excuse to ignore the rules, Dammitt!

Of course, the printing of reader submissions will still be subservient to my own ideas for language; it is, after all, my column. Which brings me to this week’s mini-topic of “coining the phrase”. We live in a global age (arguably, we have lived in a “global age” since at least 1492, but that’s not what I mean here), where it is no longer enough to have something recognized in the immediate circle of one’s friends.

With the advent of the internet in all our lives, it has never been so abundantly clear that you, the people you know, and everyone that you have ever communicated with, make up only a tiny fraction of the world’s population. Hell, you only make up a tiny fraction of the english-speaking population of the world. The chances of you becoming the next Alexander Pope (a man whose words are oft quoted) are slim, at best (unless you’re really good at writing, in which case I apologize, Mr. Vonnegut).

However, if you don’t mind the anonymity, the internet can be a useful tool for bandying things about. Just ask the guy who coined the term “pwned”. Well, you can’t, because no one knows who (s)he is, but you get the idea. The point is that on the internet, no amount of self-promotion for your own word is excessive, because no one knows who you are. You can’t accuse someone anonymous of shameless egotism, can you? The multiplicity of the internet is also crucial to the dissemination of bon mots; where “pwned” started out in multiplayer games (I’m betting Starcraft), it’s catchiness quickly lent its use to online forums, political discourse, and, of course, Wikipedia articles. Wikipedia: another great source for the introduction of a phrase, as it has a kind of quasi-legitimation built right in!

I’ll leave the discourses on how wiki works to Stephen Colbert (smarter AND funnier than me), but for today’s lexicographer on the go, it is another great resource to be exploited. My “in language” addition to their article on the onion has been up for at least the past six months. Does this make “dicing one’s onion” a legitimate phrase. Yes, it does. If it weren’t, it would have been deleted long ago [Readers: please don’t delete my onion addendum].

Anyway, my point is this: the internet seems to work as a fragmented community of subcultures that occasionally cross over and into one another. The more cultures you frequent and popularize, the more the internet (and therefore, society) will start to sound like you want it to. I don’t know whether or not this is actually true, but I feel it’s an approach worth cultivating. And remember, another valuable resource in popularizing your contributions to the lexicon is this column. You can even have your name attached, if you want it. As I said before, it’s a living language. Let’s keep it that way!

Lexipoeia: New Words for a New Age

Posted by lifestyle On January - 21 - 2007

Giving English a friendly push!

By Sam Linton

It is often stated, in some circles, that our society is becoming more crass; that we are rapidly losing our societal taboos. One of the arguments most often posited as evidence of this “decline in moral hygiene” is the rapidly declining power of certain words to shock us. Bitch, shit, Christ’s name taken in vain, even old stand-bys like fuck and its derivative, motherfucker, don’t pack the same punch they used to.

Now, I’m not sure that I agree with any vague theories about a “decline in societal standards” (or the associated assumption that such a decline would be “bad”), but I do know that it’s getting pretty damned hard to find a universally insulting epithet these days, and that hurts every last damned one of us.

All is not lost for us would-be offenders, however. Of all the “traditional” swears, one retains not only the power to offend, but to genuinely shock when dropped into everyday speech.

I speak, of course, of Cunt.

If any monosyllable in the English vernacular retains the true strength of a “curse word”, it’s cunt. But cunt is only one word, and one word cannot on its own shoulder the weight of offensiveness for an entire language without becoming seriously overloaded. Just look at what happened to fuck after taking on that burden: verb, adjective, noun, adverb and general all-purpose exclamation, fuck has lost its taboo. We cannot let this happen again.

To save cunt, offensiveness intact, I propose the creation of a new derivative with the attachment of a modifier, to do for cunt what “son of a” did for bitch, “head” did for shit, and “mother” was too late to do for fuck. In this place, I would suggest the term “cuntwaste”, as in “piece of cuntwaste!” Many modifiers could be attached to cunt (I’m sure that you, dear reader, have already thought up a few yourself), but I would suggest that “cuntwaste” would be the best option possible for three reasons.

The first reason is probably the most straightforward: the connotations. In the most straightforward terms, the vagina is where all of us originate (except Caesarean babies, but are they really people?), so to suggest that someone’s birth and, therefore, life, was simply a waste of perfectly good cunt is to cast doubt on the entire worth of an individual. No one likes that. This connotation on its own could make “cuntwaste” a fairly good insult, but there is second connotation, coming from the secondary use of that part of the body referenced by our new curse word, which I think makes “cuntwaste” a classic. To suggest not only that someone’s life is a complete waste, but that they themselves are as mere excrement — this is the essence of insult.

The second reason comes not from what the term suggests, but how it feels. “Cuntwaste” combines the hard C and T of cunt with a drawn-out sibilant in waste, ending with another hard T sound, the same sibilant T combination that’s done such wonders for “shit.” The soft/hard sound combination is at the core of all the best swearing, so following this tradition is, I believe, of paramount importance. Fuck, shit, Jesus Christ; it is only with reverence for those that preceded us that we are able to build on our past successes, even if those predecessors have become obsolete.

Finally, and it could be argued that this third reason is simply an extension of the second, there is the all-important sound of the lead-in phrase. The “piece of” that precedes cuntwaste follows yet another all-important swearing tradition: starting small so you have some place to go. Like the “son of a” before the “bitch”, the “piece of” before “cuntwaste” will serve to build expectations, and can be drawn out to any desired length before one drops the CW bomb. It serves as an appropriate counterweight, if you will.

Now, I know that there will be some objections to “cuntwaste”. It has been said, for example, that the term “cunt” is in itself too loaded with misogynistic implications to be used without damaging the credibility of the speaker, rather than just the target. (For an interesting discussion on this topic, why not consult this link?) To those, I would say that the term cuntwaste must be examined on its own merits. The insulting implication of “cuntwaste” comes from the “waste”; the “cunt” is merely used to provide the shock, and is not in itself the insulting part of the expression. In this way, I believe that “cuntwaste” can own the shock value of cunt, while escaping the implied misogyny. The only damage that one does to oneself when employing “piece of cuntwaste” is the damage of having a mouth like a fucking sewer.

Well, there you have it: my new word. The next step is up to you, the reader, in popularizing this word, for it is only in this way that language can grow and expand. The next time you’re in an emotionally loaded situation, ask yourself “is this an appropriate time to employ ‘piece of cuntwaste’?” At a party, at school, on the job, wherever you may be, start dropping “cuntwaste” in whenever you feel it’s needed and I guarantee you that people will stand up and take notice. The next time someone asks, “who’s that foul-mouthed sailor on the cutting edge of language?” you’ll know it’s you they’re talking about. Remember, it’s a living language. Let’s keep it that way!

Special thanks to Leo Moncel, Alex Mayers, and all the staff at the Ein-Stien Pub for the conversation leading to this article’s creation.

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