Saturday 8 May 2021 ,
Saturday 8 May 2021 ,
Latest News
  • Bangladesh reports 37 Covid-19 deaths, 1682 new cases
  • Momen hopes US assistance for Rohingyas in Bhashan char
8 May, 2017 00:00 00 AM
Print

Mind your language in this slacktivist, post-truth world

Vogue words can justifiably be deemed to serve a vital purpose. Not just because they allow users to sound trendy and plugged in. Vogue words capture, even if briefly, the changing preoccupations of our age
Rashmee Roshan Lall
Mind your language in this slacktivist, post-truth world

Political junkies, lexicographers and social media users recently enjoyed a rare, shared moment of levity. It was over the terminology employed by a well known British politician to describe the leader of the UK’s main opposition Labour Party. Boris Johnson said that Jeremy Corbyn was a "mutton-headed old mugwump", sending smooth-talking politicians and skilled wordsmiths to scour the dictionary for what it meant. Hardly anyone knew the meaning of mugwump, even though it has featured in J K Rowling’s Harry Potter series and in various Roald Dahl books and has been used twice by The Economist in the past 18 months.

Anyway, within hours, it was established that mugwump is a fine old word dating from the mid-1800s, with bona-fide trans-Atlantic origins and suitably multicultural roots deep within the Algonquian language, which is spoken by a Native American tribe.
Mugwump, it turned out, was a word rich in meaning. Once upon a time, it signified US Republican Party activists who switched sides. But it can also mean a person who is politically neutral. And it is an anglicised version of the Algonquian word for big chief. Furthermore, it rhymes with chump and sounds both jokey and clever.
Accordingly, mugwump was judged a great find for a world tired of prominent politicians’ one-or two-syllable prosaism.
But no one can predict if mugwump will continue to be popular, which brings us to the increasingly short-lived phenomenon of words in vogue. They have become just like women’s clothes, which suffered an exhausting decade of the trend called "fast fashion" – very now, very disposable.
Now, words and phrases increasingly have their own season. Whether new portmanteau formulations (vlog, sexting) or those reclaimed from linguistic obscurity (mugwump, ginormous), vogue terms spread quickly on social media and through journalese.
Often, they last no longer than a few days, one week, or a month. Sometimes, they demonstrate the sort of staying power that will eventually guarantee them a place in printed dictionaries. Weighty tomes such as the OED generally wait about a decade before they decide to include a word in the print edition.
Even so, vogue words can justifiably be deemed to serve a vital purpose. Not just because they allow users to sound trendy and plugged in, or, as the terminology goes, "fleeky" and "on point". Vogue words capture, even if briefly, the changing preoccupations of our age.
From late 2013, for instance, "Euromaidan" has signified the pro-European sensibilities of former Soviet Union countries because Ukrainian protesters courageously congregated at Maidan Square in Kiev.
Last year, "deplorables" became fashionable after US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton used it to describe  Trump’s supporters. The word went viral, both among Clinton supporters and opponents. At the time, Merriam-Webster dictionary reported a huge surge in online look-ups of "deplorable" and cannily handed down a lesson on the changing nature of language – that its "use as a noun is rare".
Just like "deplorable", there are many vogue words that have been around for ever but pique interest because of news events. In the process, they become useful linguistic markers of the public mood at a certain point of time.
Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster editor, recently said that the precise dictionary meaning of the word "fact" became hugely popular after  Trump’s aide Kellyanne Conway used the term "alternative facts". The same happened with "fascism", "socialism" and "democracy" because people sought to make sense of political developments and terminology as accurately as possible.
At one time we had truth and lies. Now we have truth, lies, and statements that may not be true but we consider too benign to call false. Euphemisms abound. We’re “economical with the truth,” we “sweeten it,” or tell “the truth improved.” The term deceive gives way to spin.  At worst we admit to “misspeaking,” or “exercising poor judgment.”  Nor do we want to accuse others of lying.  We say they’re in denial.  A liar is “ethically challenged,” someone for whom “the truth is temporarily unavailable.”
This is post-truth. In the post-truth era, borders blur between truth and lies, honesty and dishonesty, fiction and nonfiction. Deceiving others becomes a challenge, a game, and ultimately a habit. Research suggests that the average American tells lies on a daily basis. These fibs run the gamut from “I like sushi,” to “I love you.”
As the volume of strangers and acquaintances in our lives rises, so do opportunities to improve on the truth. The result is a widespread sense that much of what we’re told can’t be trusted. From potential mates to prospective employees, we’re no longer sure whom exactly we’re dealing with. Deception has become a routine part of the mating dance. Personnel officers take for granted that the resumes they read are padded. No wonder private investigation is a growth sector of the economy.
What motivates the casual dishonesty that’s become pandemic?  Why do so many, even those with no apparent need to do so, feel a need to embellish their personal history? This question arises every time prominent figures are unmasked as fabulists: businesspeople, politicians, journalists, judges, military officers, police chiefs, beauty queens, newspaper reporters, South Carolina’s governor, the head of the United States Olympic Committee, and the manager of the Toronto Blue Jays.  Branches are grafted onto their family trees. Unearned degrees show up on their resumes. Purchased medals appear in their display cases. Thousands of non-veterans say they fought in Vietnam. Scores more passed themselves off as Ground Zero rescue workers.
We can only understand the motives of such dissemblers by examining the sea in which they swim. Trends ranging from the postmodern disdain for “truth” to therapeutic non-judgment encourage deception. There is much incentive and little penalty for improving the “narrative” of one’s life. The increasing influence of therapists, entertainers, politicians, academics, and lawyers, with their flexible code of ethics, contribute to the post-truth era. So do ethical relativism, Boomer narcissism, the decline of community, and rise of the Internet.
Post-truthfulness builds a fragile social edifice based on wariness. It erodes the foundation of trust that underlies any healthy civilization. When enough of us peddle fantasy as fact, society loses its grounding in reality.  Society would crumble altogether if we assumed others were as likely to dissemble as tell the truth. We are perilously close to that point.
Then there are new vogue words such as Brexit, slacktivism and chillax. Some of these seem likely to hang on and make the print dictionary. Brexit because it is likely to be a long process and will almost constantly stay in the news. The others because they are ideal blends; smoothly packing two meanings into one word just like a portmanteau.

The writer specialises on world affairs


This trend has stayed strong for decades – motel, motorcade, smog, Bollywood, bionic, stagflation, televangelist, emoticon are just a few examples. And our celebrity-obsessed age improved on it with "Brangelina", the blended name of the Hollywood former couple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. After  Trump’s election, his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared’s portmanteau name "J-vanka" has increasingly started to find mention though it’s probably safe to say it will be in vogue only as long as the Trump family is in power.
Linguistic trend-spotters say that is likely to be true for a number of words that have recently become fashionable. For example, "bigly", which is  Trump’s New Yorker pronunciation of big league. So too "post-truth" and "fake news", both of which are associated with the habits and preoccupations of his administration.
This is consistent with the constantly changing nature of language, as noted by Samuel Johnson, who compiled one of the most influential English dictionaries. Back in 1755 he said change was inevitable for "to enchain syllables, and to lash the wind, are equally the undertakings of pride".
In contemporary speak, Johnson was keeping it real.

Comments

More Op-ed stories
Buddha: His birth enlightenment 
and passing away In Buddhism the Buddha Purnima is one of the most sacred events commemorating the three significant events of Lord Buddha: his birth, enlightenment and passing away or Mahaparinirvana. The Buddha, the…

Copyright © All right reserved.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Disclaimer & Privacy Policy
....................................................
About Us
....................................................
Contact Us
....................................................
Advertisement
....................................................
Subscription

Powered by : Frog Hosting