John Birmingham takes on the 2014 Word of the Year – and mansplains manspreading
One of the things I most loved about Doug Coupland’s Generation X were the dozens of neologisms coined by the author; words or phrases that didn’t exist, but totally needed to. 'Generation X', itself of course, was the greatest coinage and the only one which really stayed with us. How horrifying then, as my generation slouches towards middle age to discover that we are back in the dictionary, this time as 'Generation XL', for 'noun Colloquial (humorous) a generation with a large proportion of obese people, a condition thought to be a consequence of their sedentary lifestyle, and, in particular, of the increased amount of time they spend on digital devices.'
Oh God, it’s so not funny because it’s just so true.
As in every year, there’s a plethora of bizoid catchphrases and buzzwords so horrible that you know they’re going to die screaming from their own stupid ugliness before they crawl their way into popular usage. Yes, 'activity-based working', I’m looking at you and wondering how you escaped when 'bottom-based sitting' did not.
Generation XL, or even worse XXL, however, feels like it is going to follow me around, whispering behind its hand and sniggering at my middle-aged blubber eel from now unto the heat death of the universe. (Note to the word nerds at Macquarie Dictionary, 'blubber eel' is mine and I retain all subsidiary marketing and merchandising rights. As I do with the phrase, 'word nerd'. So back off, biblio-bitches.) [Editor's note: Wouldn't dream of touching your word, John, but the minute I find the whole community is using it then it is legitimately ours.] Scanning this year’s list of new arrivals – or not so new, eh, 'share plate'? – throws up a couple which already seem so deeply embedded in the language it feels like they’ve always been with us. 'Defunding', for instance. I could have sworn I’ve been defunded more times than the average dude bro has mansplained his biological need to manspread all over the bus or train seat.
('Manspreading', the act of allowing the male knees to open wide, usually on public transport, thereby allowing a generous Lebensraum to one’s enormous and uncomfortably confined genitalia. You can have that one for free MacDic. I stole it from the New York Times). [Editor's note: You are kind. Manspreading is in my Watch and Act pile. The word, that is. I will leave others to deal with the habit in practice.]
Some of the newbies seem to nail something so perfectly that it’s inevitable we’ll totes overuse them and bring on a snarky backlash. I have a lazy ten bucks says this lies in the very near future of feelpinions. Others are evolving so quickly that by the time they’re captured and mounted under glass in the dictionary, their successor terms have moved on. 'Take-home message', for instance, has already morphed into 'hot take', which exploded with such heat across the internet and media sphere that it must surely precede feelpinions into embarrassed oblivion.
The reek of politics pre-emptively surrounds some words. 'Warmist' for instance already feels pejorative, like something that took off in the blogs of some right-wing trollumnist. Or didn’t, à la 'compassionista', which seems a poor substitute for the venerable 'bleeding heart'.
Meanwhile the reek of general disgust attends others.
Like 'selfie stick'.
John Birmingham is part of the commitee for Macquarie Word of the Year 2014. The Committee meets on Wednesday 4 February to decide which of the new words selected for inclusion in the dictionary in 2014 is the most valuable contribution to the English language.