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May 08

All The Words!

By Sister Wolf

Annual lists of new words are usually a treasure trove of portmanteau and tech slang, with something for everyone to screech "EW!"at. The American Dialect Society's list for 2018 is rich in political jargon and sadly, youth culture slang that slipped right by me, like "yeet." I say sadly because I do like to keep up. But not knowing what yeet means was actually a blessing in disguise. In fact, it's such an annoying word and concept that I'm choosing to believe it doesn't even exist.

Sister Wolf Article for Miista

I wish I could say the same for BDE (Big Dick Energy.) In social media, Big Dick Energy was a top meme in 2018. It started in a posthumous tweet about Anthony Bourdain, and gained traction in a tweet by Ariana Grande about her boyfriend's appendage. Now, you can read countless essays on the cultural significance of BDE and what it suggests about modern masculinity. But let's not. It only leads into a black hole of blogspeak (I just made that up!) in which Grande is called by one journalist an "affogato." I'll wait while you google affogato.

Sister Wolf Article for MIIsta

Getting back to The American Dialect Society, its word for 2018 is Tender Age Shelter. They explain that their choice is actually a "vocabulary item" rather than a single word, and is based on its prominence in 2018. The term was coined by Trump bureaucracy to refer to the cages where immigrant children were detained while separated from their parents.

Runners-up included yeet (EW!), the wall, Individual 1, caravan, nationalist, techlash and finsta. I'm going to just say meh on these, without even knowing or caring what year "meh" appeared on the scene. The ADS offers a short list of what they playfully call WTF words, which include "emotional support peacock" and "soy boy,” (a term for a man perceived as not conforming to male gender stereotypes). WTF??

Words and terms about gender issues have certainly proliferated in the last year, and here it's hard not to sound reactionary in response to how difficult they are to navigate. Amherst College recently posted on its website a document titled Common Language Guide, with a 40 page glossary of terms serving “a need to come to a common and shared understanding of language...around identity, privilege, oppression and inclusion.”

Uh-oh. Here's how the guide defines heterosexuality:

A term developed as diagnosis of the hyper-infatuation with a different sex, first used by sexologist Karl-Maria Kertbeny in 1868.... [It] is used today to denote the normalized dominant sexual identity.”

Well, excuuuuuuse me! Now I feel a little less-than, know what I mean? I was comfortable with being hetero but now I see I might need to apologize for it. The definition of femininity is more strident, so brace yourselves. It includes the subtle admonishment, "Performing femininity in a culturally established way is expected of people assigned female at birth.” In this view, femininity is fraudulent, a performance, unless you're queer or trans.

The guide warns against “homonormativity,” or “the ever-present phenomenon where members of the LGBTQ+ community subscribe to heteronormative approximations of intimate, romantic and sexual lives that are the product of white, neoliberal (capitalist), sexist, transmisogynistic and cissexist norms.” And that's fine, up to a point. That point would be the inability to converse with other humans without stepping into a minefield of acronyms designed to recognize categories of "identity."

Apparently, the document has been removed from the college website but I feel enriched by learning the term transmisogynoir (“the marginalization of black trans women and trans feminine people that is inclusive of transphobia, racism, and misogyny, and how all of these intersect.”). Now that is a wonderful portmanteau, not as good as mansplaining but still music to the ear.

Just yesterday, I read the word "manfluencer" and laughed out loud. Adding man as a prefix, like mancave, is always fun, but I hunger for more and better manonyms, like the one I made up to describe male sulking: "mannui" (pronounced, duh, män-wee). At the same time, I can't stand terms with lady thrown in, like "ladyboner," ladyparts, or even Lady Gaga. Words can have different effects on different people, but some are universally disliked (moist) or adored (gossamer).

Young people today are inventing words that infantilize, like lil, smol, feels, and adulating, which handily explains their entire stance. Good for them. I'm just glad I can still use dope and wack to signal my feels, in case they are interested. And I have my own list of words I'm ready to banish for 2019. Here they are:

Yassss (I know, but I can dream!)
thicc
best life
wellness
to be honest
check all the boxes
incentivize
low-key
uptalk
blessed
robust
deep dive
journey

As I'm always saying, words matter! Unless you excel at interpretive dance, use them with care. Or to quote Jules in Pulp Fiction: English, Motherfucker!

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