Brexit, millennials, binge-watching… every word in the English language was coined by someone. What’s it like to be an accidental wordsmith?
Are we living through a golden age of linguistic inventiveness? Buzzwords and neologisms – from office jargon to the lexicons of democratic chaos in Britain and the US, as well as the ever-expanding culture wars – rain down on us every day, and can gain global currency at the speed of fibre-optic cable. Many, of course, fail – like “Brixit”, an early rival to Brexit, or “Generation Me”, one proposed label for what we now call millennials. Others rapidly become part of the modern conversation. Why, for example, do critics call young, supposedly over sensitive and easily triggered people “snowflakes”? Because in Chuck Palahniuk’s 1996 novel Fight Club, Tyler Durden says: “You are not special. You are not a beautiful and unique snowflake.”
Palahniuk’s contribution, however, was accidental. He later explained: “Back in 1994, when I was writing my book, I wasn’t insulting anyone but myself… My use of the term ‘snowflake’ never had anything to do with fragility or sensitivity.” Instead, he was using it as a means of “deprogramming himself”, so he didn’t believe in his own praise. But the point is that you can’t control what usage will do once it’s out of your hands: a much wider uptake can shift the meaning. The term “woke”, for example, is now used mockingly for a kind of overrighteous liberalism; but its first recorded use, by the African-American novelist William Melvin Kelley, was meant to indicate an awareness of political issues, especially those around race, a positive usage that still also persists.
I said to David Cameron, ‘You could be the new Churchill here. You could say Britain is a leader in Europe’
Naming a generation is like shooting a bullet into a cave and watching it ricochet. You never know where it’ll come out
That’s one of the cool things about the internet. You never know what sort of reach something you say will have
Source: Guardian GiG Economy