Early prediction for 2008′s most popular words and phrases

Last year saw, “I drink your milkshake” and “Don’t tase me bro,” as some of the most popular phrases.  What are this year’s oft- and over-repeated words and phrases?  Let me make some predictions, two months ahead of schedule (because I want to say I was the first to make them:)  Suggestions welcome.

greenwashing

mortgage-backed securities

derivatives

credit crunch

pressure at the pump

lipstick on a pig  (I still haven’t bothered to find out what that means).

bailout

Why so serious?

Wall Street and Main Street

surge (for yet another year)

arugula-eating

hockey mom

barack the vote

obamania

change we can believe in

It is what it is.  (According to Language Monitor, this meaningless phrase was “everywhere on the tube this year from “The Wire” to the Roger ‘The Rocket’ Clemens Steroid in Baseball Congressional hearings.”  And it was also thrown about in my old place of work among me and my coworkers).

Revolting word of the moment: “branding”

“Branding” is such an overused verb these days.   “Re-branding” seems to be the solution for any product/person/place that is somehow faltering.  A few examples:

“Re-branding is a new approach to quality service.” [PanArmenian Net]

“Be Berlin?: The ‘poor but sexy’ city starts re-branding” [Gridskipper]

“The successful outcome of branding is the creation of an instant recognition and emotional connection with desired audiences.” [USC Upstate]

It is a word that signifies style over substance; in fact, it infects substance with an inane style that does not respond to a problem.  For instance, taking the first example, would quality service really be solved by “re-branding?”  If there is a problem with service quality, does not that speak to the need to actually address what is going wrong in the service chain rather than trying to spin things as going right because the brand has been re-done? 

What I fear in my near future attempt to be a journalist is that I will get sucked into the world of marketing language, a meaningless vortex of outward sheen and inner vagueness.

My contribution to ‘stuff white people like’

I had to do it.  I e-mailed Stuff White People Like with a couple of suggestions:

Heard Christian Lander on NPR, and started telling my white friends about how great this segement I heard on NPR was!
I have a couple of suggestions for the blog that may well have been sent to you already.
White people like
(1) Helping Africans and Latin Americans. Despite that there are plenty of poor, uneducated, unhealthy families residing in the backyards of white people (SE DC, Appalachia, Camden, NJ), they love to travel across the globe to help people deemed even poorer: Latin Americans and Africans. In particular, white people find that the best way to help these populations is by taking photos of them as freelance photographers and educating other white people about how bad these populations have it. (This goes along with the white penchant for “Awareness” illustrated earlier). When asked to explain their passion for this type of “work,” white people will rattle off about “human rights,” “social justice,” “global community,” and “interdependence.”
Fortunately for white people concerned with the size of their carbon footprint, there has not been enough “awareness” shed on the dent that footprint makes each time a white person flies to South Africa, yet.
(2) Learning non-”Western” languages. At a certain point, learning French went from being romantically intellectual to being a sign of white cultural ignorance, unless that French is to be applied in one of the Francophone countries in Africa. These days, white people are learning Farsi, Hindi, Chinese, and Arabic. Spanish is still okay, but only if you have plans to use it for social justice purposes.
Hope these aren’t too repetitive. Keep up the great work. As I’m sure you’ve heard, I recognize so many people (including myself) in your blog posts.
Cheers (a sign-off that white people like),
Elaine Meyer
Of course, this is not to knock people who learn languages, especially those who are incredibly disciplined about it.  I wish I knew an Eastern language myself.  I am more knocking the fact that learning these languages has become a trendy and fleeting endeavor for many.  (One of my favorite readers is a shining example of how important studiousness and committment is to learning languages, especially those of a totally different structure than the Romance and Germanic with which English speakers are familiar).

The flowery language of Starbucks

It is difficult to associate the corporate behemoth of Starbucks with a warm setting and a product whose preparation is characterized by integrity, but that is what the romantic CEO and marketing consultants seem to have in mind for it. 

Because I think of corporate writing as partly responsible for banishing originality and passionate language from the workplace, I found it interesting that those associated with Starbucks speak with such effusive regret about Starbucks’ corporatization.  It is as if they are repressed English Ph.Ds, dying to inject some excitement into their work.  Take the words of innovation consultancy chief executive Geoff Vuleta.  He says Starbucks jumped the shark by “replacing mystique with relentless commerce,” and he waxes eloquent on that original mystique:

We all remember our initial encounters with Starbucks: the exoticism of new language, space, sounds and smells [...] Fast-forward a decade, and the first thing that jumps out is that the mystique that so thoroughly defined the initial experience is conspicuously absent — trampled in the stampede of proliferation.

It is entirely fitting of the value placed upon consumption that a literary phrase like “stampede of proliferation” is used to describe one’s diappointment with a fast food corporation, but perhaps it is also sympathetic.  After all, if our days are made better by the small pleasure of sipping a great cup of coffee in a pleasant space, maybe that should inspire poetry.

The carbon footprint metaphor

When I went to visit my parents earlier this summer, my dad introduced one of those changes in household policy that reminds me that the world I left behind moves without me and that it is impacted by “the times” the same way that I am. Now, the house rule was to keep the air conditioning off in order to “reduce our carbon footprint,” as my dad bemusedly put it.

This got me thinking about how at some point, eco- this and green that became hot, and I do not really know why. Was it the Al Gore movie? Discovery Channel specials on melting icecaps? Americans are constantly accused of living ignorant of anything that is not an immediate threat to our way of life, and yet, people still get motivated by a melting polar icecap, which I don’t think is going to set off an orange alert anytime soon. Again, it begs the question, why now? (I suppose it’s my cue to break out Malcom Gladwell’s Tipping Point).

In any case, few things interest me more than the special lingo that accompanies a new trend and how readily people embrace it. Think the enthusiastic usage of metrosexual several years back. The global warming movement has no shortage of terms, my favorite being the ubiquitous one used by my dad, “carbon footprint.” The technology boom brought us liberally applied “e-” and “i-” prefixes and now this renewed bout–or hopefully an era–of environmental awareness brings us “carbon footprint.”

Today, I was trying to puzzle out the accuracy of this metaphor, and I got stuck on the idea of “reducing” one’s carbon footprint. Does this mean that by using less carbon-emitting products, one treads more lightly on the theoretical sand of our ozone, or does it mean that one’s footprint actually decreases in size? The latter is impossible for a footprint to do, as far as I know, so reducing a carbon footprint must refer to making a lighter impression. Thoughts?

Quote of the day

Michael Scherer on Bill Clinton as he campaigns with Hillary:

On a bad day, Bill is still better on the stump than any candidate now running for president. His pregnant pauses are perfectly timed, his intonations exacting and his Southern twang still hits all the down-home notes. America knows all too well his way of squinting for emphasis and rolling his lip against his teeth between sentences. They are trademarked blasts from the nation’s more peaceful and satisfied past.

True, indeed.

Also, I am increasingly finding myself a sucker for HillCam.  For all of the skepticism directed at Hillary Clinton, she has made her career about helping “little people,” as an attorney, a first lady, and a public servant.  Though I’m still favoring Obama, I won’t be distraught if Hillary is the nominee.

The independent mystique

I’ll have more to write on the Washington Post’s new study of independent voters later, but one flaw that immediately jumps out at me is the way the Post portrays independent voters as a “force.” Even after their study breaks down this very amorphous and I would say non-existent voting bloc, they treat independents as a coalition:

Independents are already a significant force in American politics, and their numbers are growing

In fact, this group–and I even hestitate to use the word group–is the last thing from an organized voting body and should not be treated as one. It just leads to harebrained analysis of which way independents will “swing,” when independents themselves are hardly a uniform bloc of voters.

Terms That Annoy Me

And now for the annoying term of the day:

“power couple”

Usage: describes a successful and often pretty obnoxious husband and wife team
(“husband and wife team” is another phrase which I hate)

Power couple examples that prove this to be true: Mary Matalin and James Carville, Lynne and Dick Cheney, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, Mei Xiang and Tian Tian

The term’s high-intensity tenor is what gets me in particular. It’s another one of those journalistic cliches that’s often used in the context of politics or business to lend a snappy, knowing air to a piece.

Expressions in the power couple family: power lunch, business casual, power nap, heads down, suit up

The D.C. Public Library in all of its glory

In doing a search on the D.C. Public Library’s online catalog, I came across location categories including: Assumed lost, Claims lost, Branch closed until mid-February 2003, Gone Astray, Gone Astray between branches, Gone Astray for a Long Time, Lost, Lost and Paid for, Material Long Overdue, Missing titles Discovered in weeding, Undergoing repair, Unknown. As for the item category, my personal favorite category is: Brief titles entered on the fly. All of this makes a lot more sense if you visit the MLK main branch.

Writing dialogue is hard

I’ve come to appreciate lately how difficult it is to write good dialogue. Despite how much we talk on a daily basis, somehow capturing the authenticity of conversation on paper is difficult, in part because the act of writing conversation is imbued with a purpose that conversation itself in its routine idleness and aimlessness does not possess.

In Thomas Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons, his tome about modern-day debauchery at America’s finest universities some of the dialogue borders on the implausible. The book has been criticized for depicting some characters as hopless cardboard figures, particularly the prep school alumni who are members of the most elite fraternities and sororities. This is debatable. What Wolfe most bitterly fails at, in my view, is depicting his more thoughtful characters. The intellectually curious students with whom Charlotte strikes up a rapport broadcast an unrealistic self-awareness to a point that seems utterly contrived. Take this conversation, where Adam Gellin, the student athlete tutor and college journalist who crushes on Charlotte, explains the M.O. of the intellectual members of his generation with dubious grandiloquence:

[...] Students like us used to just go to graduate school and become college teachers. But after that, a new type of intellectual comes on the scene: the bad ass. The bad-ass is sort of a rogue intellectual. A bad-ass doesn’t want to do anything so boring and low-paid and like…codified…as teaching [...] You’re an intellectual, but you want to operate on a higher level. This is a new millenium, and you want to be a member of the millenial aristocracy, which is a meritocracy, but an aristo-meritocracy.

Tom Wolfe: Are you serious???

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