But hallelujah! This morning, both Fritinancy and You Don't Say reminded me that today is Festivus, a day that invites – nay, mandates – the airing of grievances. A few hours later, in a delightful cosmic conjunction, I came upon the perfect target for a Festivus grievance: Ron Rosenbaum’s essay today in Slate. The icing on the Festivus cake: The piece itself, though not labeled as such, is an Airing of (Language) Grievances.
Yes, I have language grievances too – who doesn’t? – but Rosenbaum’s list is just the latest entry in a tired and exasperating genre: A catalogue of usages – in this case, allegedly faddish or newish ones – delivered along with the writer’s arbitrary judgments on whether they “deserve” to survive in the language.
Often, as in this case, the writer offers half-baked theories for why some “losers” adopt the offensive words. Of the slang junk for genitals, for instance, Rosenbaum ventures that maybe “overdosing on junk-sex Internet porn has damaged the brains of so many men that they’ve come to think everything sexual is, well, junky.”
That's a joke, I suppose, but there’s more:
Crowdsourcing: Hasn’t it occurred to anyone -- especially the new media genius types who abuse the concept -- that the archetypal crowd is a lynch mob?
Isn’t it obvious that someone who’s using gravitas is mainly trying to confer it upon himself by implying he has the gravitas to recognize and bestow gravitas?
It seems, despite my efforts, we will never be able to stamp out “spot on” and those who think the use of it gives them an Atlanticist sophistication.But not all trendy words are unspeakable:
One new term I encountered on the website The Hairpin that sounds super-intriguing: napgasm. Apparently, it’s a thing. (That’s another of my fave catchphrases, by the way. It’s a thing is a thing.)
Meh: I still like this! I think it’s rare to find something so new and expressive in the language.I could say more about his individual peeves and faves, but so could you, dear readers, so I won’t. We can all wonder together: What makes Rosenbaum think he gets to be the nation's "Catchphrase Executioner"?
But my grievance isn’t really directed at Rosenbaum; after all, he has a deadline to meet, and he's hardly the only writer to indulge the delusion that his rulings on language have weight. No, in this case I blame Slate. They’ve published Jesse Sheidlower and Ben Zimmer on language, so they know what reality-based usage analysis looks like. Editors sometimes save writers from their cheesier impulses; in this case they failed. So thank you, Slate, for inspiring a joyously cranky Festivus observance.