No New Words

Quick, use a figure of speech, a metaphor, that uses only 21st century imagery?

You can’t.

We use icons on windows in a virtual world we access with a mouse over a broadband wireless networks.

See?  There isn’t even a word for a network without wires!  We’re left only with the negative of a wired one.

But surely, you say, the word “virtual” is new.  Nope. The pope used it in 1398, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.  “Broadband”?  Well, it is unlikely that the American doctor writing OED entries from his cell in a British insane asylum (he contributed 10% of the definitions in that hallowed book) was thinking of the Internet when he read or wrote about broad or band.  However, neither word is new and it is likely the combination was used as a metaphor to mean something in a single swath covering a wide range.


(used to express dismay when one has said or done something stupid or when something has gone wrong.)
Compare duh.
Also, doh.
1950 – 55; later popularized by Homer Simpson, character in the animated TV series “The Simpsons,” who smacks his forehead while saying “d’oh!”

Ah, we humans – so intent on believing our own hype.  We are so “hip”, so powerful that some of us see us as responsible for manipulating an entire planet.  A recent cartoon posted on a social network by a contact of mine shows a “doctor planet” diagnosing a sick Earth as infested with humans as its problem.  (Reminds me of an old boss who used to say about my wish to visit Europe that I could get the same view of a bunch of dirty buildings in South Tucson – or the college roommate who used to say the world would be a nicer place if it weren’t for the people.)

Such egos we have.  We’re so full of ourselves there is no depth to which we imagine we can sink or height to which we cannot, Icarus-like, rise to a vision of our own glory.  We live 80 or so years, but 500 years ago – five lifetimes – I think those same sorts of people were certain the Earth was at the center of the Universe and burned at the stake those who disagreed.

We fear what we don’t control and the “heretics” who hold dangerous opinions must be taught a lesson, via burning stake then or restrictive carbon credit laws and more world government today.

Watch the fashion pages or the press release stream from the technology business.  We are so sold on how we create “new.” (Wide ties, no wait, narrow ties, no, wait…)  And yet, how little we’ve grown language from the 20,000 words Shakespeare used (fewer than is often cited due to single counting of a word and eliminating its conjugated forms : visit, visited, visiting.)  Some estimate the average American has a reading vocabulary of between 8,000-10,000 words of which we use 1500-200o to talk to each other. And all the same tired “new and improved” stuff.

“World famous” means it likely isn’t (except the San Diego Zoo).  “Best of” or “Top ten” means “this is what I like.”  I got a kick out of the Super bowl ad starring Tracy Morgan: “You know what always kept America moving forward, America? 
Change! We didn’t like the shape of chickens so we changed them to nuggets. We grew tired of saying, “Greeting dear friend”, so we changed it to “Sup?”

Did Matt Groenig bestow upon the cartoon character Homer Simpson, the only really new word to enter the lexicon?  I would argue that “D’oh” is not a word, but a sound and not even a new one, despite the fact that some dictionaries now list it as a valid word.  My iPhone Scrabble App agrees with me.

I say all this not to disparage our language or us (well, ok, the Climate Change Clerics, maybe, but in a “I wish you’d spend those creative energies on something worthwhile and stop trying to pass more laws to control other people.” sort of way)  Instead, this is a call to enliven our speech.  Instead of using the same tired obscenity over and over, try the Steve Martin way: “Die, you gravy-sucking pigs.”   Don’t sniff your wine and report notes of blackcherry and clove, I mean, how many blackcherries have you had lately?  And what the hell does “cherry flavor” taste like anyway?

Instead, dig deep into your own personal experience of the touches and tastes of life.  Distill the poetry of your own experience into something that will almost surely resonate with someone else, which is the reason to report at all.  What does it smell like from the pantheon of your sense experience? (Okay, so maybe you import blackcherries in season every year.)

Or, the wine being corked, shrug, grin to your companions and sound off: “D’oh!”

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