November 29, 2009
Last week the New Oxford American Dictionary named "Unfriend" as word of the year.
"Unfriend" is a verb that means to remove someone as a friend on a social networking site. Reading the shortlist for word of the year was depressing. There was "funemployed" - referring to those who take advantage of being out of work to have fun - and "sexting" - when someone sends sexy messages by phone. Perhaps even more disturbing: "Tramp stamp" - a tattoo on a woman's lower back.
I knew someone once who had a "tramp stamp". By coincidence, it was the same person who "unfriended" me.
I'm not a fan of hybrid words. I remember when I first heard the term, "metrosexual" I thought: no way this will ever catch on. Turns out there's a word for what I was. Wrong.
Maybe it all started with the labradoodle. A crossbreed of a Labrador retriever and a poodle, these adorable (and hypoallergenic) dogs introduced a whole new area of possibilities for cute word combinations. In my building in New York, there's a cockerpoo, a shnoodle, a spoodle, a doodle and an eskimoodle. Those are fine but then there's also a bug. This is a boston terrier and a pug.
And therein lies the problem. No one will ever know what a bug is. It's far too obtuse. As soon as you start saying you're dog is a bug, you're asking for trouble.
Which is why I've never understood why someone would use the word: 'frenemy.' It just seems so lazy. How much extra time does it really take to explain the situation. Does everything have to be shortened?
Then the other day, I was telling someone about a friendship that had developed very quickly and this person said, "I know what you mean - it's a "friendmance." A what? A friendmance. It is, she explained, a friendship that's like a romance.
Even worse than a frenemy is a friendmance. Because at least "frenemy" has some lyricism to it. A "friendmance" is just two words cut-and-pasted together.
I was at dinner with my friend, Laura, talking about this and she agreed that she too, can't stand the current trend towards the conflation of two words. "I have a word for it," she said. "Combocabulary."
I love that she has made up a word to describe how much she hates made up words.
When it comes to technological terms, I don't mind the blending as much. Possibly because there's a functional definition behind it and the terminology used is specific to the medium. For instance a "webcast" or a "webisode" Even a "vlog" - a form of blogging with video - seems appropriate. Anything that's web-based is acceptable because it makes me sound tech-savvy. And I need all the help I can get.
It seems like every other week, there's a new word that's come up. I took an informal poll and the one that everyone currently hates the most is: staycation. I can see why. A staycation became a popular neologism during the recent financial crisis - when in the UK, the weak pound made going overseas prohibitively expensive.
Staycationers stay at home, check e mail, do chores and try not to spend money. In other words, they are writers.
The Urban Dictionary is filled with all sorts of these made-up words. From bhopaholic to mantrum (when a grown man throws a tantrum). I'm not sure how authoritative it is though. The word "bromance" has 42 definitions.
I asked a straight male friend if he would ever use the word: "bromance"
"No," he said. "It makes me cringe, probably because I hate the word "bro." I have never, even in jest, called anyone "bro." Guys who call each other "bro" I imagine are frat brothers or investment bankers (same thing) and I don't relate."
The only thing that bothers me more than when people use fake words is when someone adds "gate" on to the end of a situation.
The other night I was having dinner with a friend who asked if I'd heard about "waxing-gate". This was a conspiratorial incident that involved a Russian eyebrow-waxer, and two frenemies. It was at that point that I decided I'm not made for this world.
When I told her this, you know what she said?
"Oh my god, that's sarcasmic."