As a journalist and an educator, words are my life. I use ‘em, abuse ‘em and comment on how other people use and abuse them. And, of course, language is constantly in flux and what’s accepted and correct today might be archaic and laughable tomorrow.
In 2011, some of the new words and expressions that have been added have – in my opinion – enriched the language, and some have degraded it.
The hottest new word is “tebowing,” which refers to a spontaneous public religious expression, sometimes involving kneeling and praying just about anywhere. The term, of course, is tied to Tim Tebow, the Denver Broncos quarterback.
Some folks find it gratifying; some find it a bit over-the-top. I refer all to Matthew 6:5, which reads “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues so everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get.”
Not far behind is the use of “really?” This, of course, is not a new word, but in its current use it refers to an ironically deadpan skeptical mock, as if to say “You are really (saying or doing) that stupid thing?” I hear it all over, and believe it may have entered the popular culture from the recent movie “Bridesmaids.”
Sports commentators are among the folks who contribute much to the language for good or bad. “Walk-off” and “three and out” are flip sides of sudden changes in fortune.
“Walk-off” means a home run or other hit which abruptly ends a baseball (or softball) game in your favor. There is even a new statistic being kept for “walk-off” hits. You can apply it in the business world. A smashing business presentation or interview that instantly makes the sale or gets the job may be considered a “walk-off.”
“Three-and-out” comes from football, when a team fails to advance the ball 10 yards in three downs and thus has to punt the ball away. I’ve had some dates wherein the evening was a “three-and-out”; the same can apply to a request for a raise or a plea to a traffic cop as he writes you a ticket.
One term I hear a lot on NFL broadcasts is “in space.” As in “the quarterback got the ball to the wide receiver in space.” What I think this means is that he threw the ball to a guy who caught it when there were few defenders around. We used to call this being “wide open,” but why use that easily understandable term when you can make a kid’s game sound like rocket science?
The whole “occupy” movement has spawned a bunch of variations, permutations and perversions. “Occupy Wall Street” launched a thousand ships; there was even a somewhat laughable “Occupy Irvine” movement. I’m trying to imagine where an “Occupy Garden Grove” movement might take place. I suppose there are a cluster of banks at Brookhurst and Chapman (Chase, Union Bank, Bank of America, Wells Fargo), but it’s not quite the same, is it?
I have even heard it used in a “romantic” way. One of my female students gushed “I would SO occupy Ryan Goslin.”
The terms “99 percent” and “1 percent” have also surfaced. Presumably the second one refers to the one in 100 Americans who are rich, most commonly defined as people (or married couples) who earn around $1 million a year.
Of course, figures have a way of shifting around. Are we talking round numbers, or adjusted gross income, which is considerably lower. If it’s the latter, you get into the 1 percent club with just $343,000 a year. Still, not chicken feed …
While I sympathize with the idea that rich people (i.e., people who make more money than I do) should contribute more, the whole “us vs. them” approach makes my skin a little itchy. Since the 1 percent allegedly control 42 percent of the nation’s wealth (and more than that in influence) what are our chances, realistically, of getting Congress to even things up a bit? I see the “Occupy” folks going three-and-out unless they try a different strategy.
The flexibility of American English makes it a living and fun language to speak and write. But not every new term that comes along is worth preserving.