goers look forward to Opening Night, baseball fans to Opening
Day, and lexicographers to Revised Editions of dictionaries.
Just as there are hopes that a new playwright has dramatized
existential woes in a freshly creative way or that a new pitcher
will lead the locals to the World Series, there is febrile anticipation
over new words listed in alphabetical order. Their origins are
ubiquitous: foreign idioms, media slang, erroneously heard corruptions.
The important thing is to keep on adding because nothing demonstrates
the life of a democracy -- linguistic and every other kind --
more than volume.
trouble with this ideology of the cumulative -- linguistic and
every other way -- is that it abets the long-since meaningless.
Discrimination ducks behind historical usage. Words that ought
to have been retired as barren cling to every recital of Fourth
of July and Miss America speeches. Every Revised Edition demands
more space for the prattle entry. Language democracy is not
synonymous with its relevance.
deny it, of course. We boast of our adoptive powers. The twentieth-century
meaning of gay didn’t exile horse-and-carriage meanings,
did it? And how about rap and web and coke? No crises there.
We can handle the simple additions. Overpopulation is India’s
problem, not ours.
saving grace of self-delusions is that they are self-deluding,
trauma not required. We are free to overlook the contradictory,
the awkward, and most of all the empty. Just natter any word
that has been codified in one of those big books and Internet
screens. Many of us first had that experience when we were asked
to render an opinion on a painting, a novel, or a murder in
the apartment upstairs. Gathering our wits, we allowed as how
it was interesting. Subsequently, we encountered so many phenomena
equally interesting that this quality seemed rivaled only by
oxygen as an essential planetary substance. To be interesting
something merely had to be there; we didn’t need to hazard
a judgment on it, didn’t dare expose a lack of perceptiveness,
wondered why the hell it had to exist to begin with. Interesting
was Everyword, above partisanship, beyond commitment, dismissive
of thought itself. Most important, it was incredibly inclusive
because when you got down to it, how many experiences, objects,
or cracks in the ceiling plaster were uninteresting?
so promiscuous, interesting hardly shocks by having spawn. In
art circles, vivid grew relentlessly from childhood to dotage.
Not merely an alternative for orange, vivid is useful for any
work that attracts the eye and doesn’t immediately disintegrate
from the attention. The same might be said of books, movies
and steak knives that are penetrating. Implicit in its usage
is that some cavernous ignorance has been violated, particularly
around the assumption that the obvious may be obvious. Much
of what is characterized as penetrating also risks being provocative,
though rarely with specifics if this means the hatching of a
revolutionary, the gathering of a lynch mob, or the firing of
an especially gross fart. A provocative entity that is equally
vivid and penetrating would represent he Holy Grail of the interesting.
that the lexically vacuous are confined to the aesthetic. Social
and political vocabularies have bequeathed a pride of place
to the meaningless. The practiced core of this hollow is controversial.
Things get controversial when every Chinese except a couple
of farmers near the Mongolian frontier vote for something; i.e.,
somebody, anybody who doesn’t subscribe to what has to
be absolute to avoid . . . yes, controversy. If the tail-eating
ouroboros didn’t exist, controversial would have created
word more recently drafted for the task of communicating nothing
is orthodox and its family. The New York Times,
for example, has developed a crush on describing the Trump Administration’s
mode of governing (sic) as unorthodox. The paper doesn’t
mean some opposition to one of the sects in various religions
that favour thick beards, but appears to prefer that word to
what, depending on the context, would more appropriately be
felonious, mindless, or just squalid.
ritual defense for such choices in the mass media is the need
to be objective. No word in the dictionary is less objective
than objective in that it occupies a definition space all by
itself while its nature demands it be accompanied by an adversarial
suggestion allowing it to state its case for legitimate existence.
But such has not been the reality since the days when Newsweek,
when it was still being thought of as venerable, argued a position
for one side, then for the other, then happily brought in a
hot dog vendor or sampan driver to point out why both sides
lacked complete wisdom.
there is objective’s nemesis -- factual. Oddly enough,
that entry seems to get shorter with every Revised Edition.