OnWords

Commentary
12:30 pm
Tue July 15, 2014

The 'Binge' Paradox

Credit Aaron Escobar / Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons

The word binge is a paradox connoting both shame and pride.

The very same binge-drinking that is such a concern for parents and college administrators is, for certain students, something to brag about. Note the pyramids of empty beer cans that grace fraternity houses and the murky recollections of weekend benders bracketed with phrases like, “Oh my God, I was sooo drunk that night!”

That some don’t survive these adventures in besottedness doesn’t stop bingeing from happening, and may even increase the binge’s mystique.

Read more
Commentary
12:30 pm
Tue July 1, 2014

What Is 'Privilege?'

Credit Quinn Dombrowski / Flickr / Creative Commons

When Princeton student Tal Fortgang recently complained on Time magazine's blog that, as a white male, he had been repeatedly “reprimanded” to “check his privilege,” the Internet exploded in somewhat predictable ways.

I'll let you and Facebook explore what all is being said about Fortgang's piece, but the word privilege deserves some scrutiny.

Read more
Commentary
12:30 pm
Tue June 17, 2014

OnWords: Meeting Around The Bush

Credit Steve Jurvetson / Flickr / Creative Commons

One language trait I've noticed recently is a peculiar use of the word “around.”

Someone might be describing a new organizational initiative and say, “Let's get together and have a discussion around the new viral marketing campaign.” What the person would have said prior to the around ascendancy is, of course, “Let's get together and have a discussion about the new marketing campaign.”

So what's all this about around—or rather around it? Or whatever?

Read more
Commentary
12:36 pm
Tue June 3, 2014

Labels: The Blessing And The Curse

Credit bunky’s pickle, flickr Creative Commons

When I was in high school in the 1980s, well-meaning grown-ups set about trying to break down labels and stereotypes. The destructive categories of race and class, the social strata of jocks and geeks, goths, stoners, and punks, they thought, were destructive to our young psyches and to the orderly running of the school.

Read more
Commentary
12:30 pm
Tue May 20, 2014

The Dangerous Assumptions of 'Excellence'

These guys are excellent, but they don't bother with 'excellence'

“Excellence” ranks right up there with terms like “professionalism” and “family values” as power terms, the vagueness of which is used to subject people to all manner of indignity and peonage.

“Excellent” we might lovingly associate with Wayne's World or Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, in which it's a term of universal application to all things righteous, gnarly or dope. But that same universalism is exactly what makes “excellence” so dangerous.

Read more
Commentary
12:30 pm
Tue May 6, 2014

OnWords: Let Me Explain

Credit Fellowship of the Rich / Flickr / Creative Commons

'Splain, as a contraction for “explain,” has long been with us, but I originally began to appreciate its comic potential in a creative writing workshop in graduate school. The inestimable Steve Johnson had submitted an uncharacteristically inscrutable poem, and after we all had contorted our minds trying to figure it out, we finally just turned to him and asked, “Steve, what in the heck does this even mean?” With total composure and deadpan wit, he replied, “I just write 'em. I don't 'splain 'em.”

Read more
Commentary
12:30 pm
Tue April 22, 2014

Understanding Creativity

Credit elaine faith / Flickr / Creative Commons

Creativity is another one of those words that we throw around as if we know what we're talking about.

But we're fundamentally conflicted about creativity-- perhaps because, in practice, it's somewhat mysterious.

We'd all agree that creativity is about bringing new things into the world: new products, new ideas, new perspectives. We sometimes use "creativity” synonymously with words like “innovation” and “originality.”

Read more
Commentary
12:30 pm
Tue April 8, 2014

Putting Humanity Back In 'The Market'

Credit Gavin Clabaugh / Flickr / Creative Commons

Maybe most remarkable about the term “the market,” is the incredible variety of ideas it invokes.

The market, at its most mundane, conjures an image of a grocery store with its rainbow wash, the visual signatures of myriad brands all competing for our eyes, and for the dollars that follow. We also retain this cultural memory: the market as a place for basket-weavers and growers to hock their wares, for handmade rugs to rub up against stacks of kohlrabi.

Read more
Commentary
12:30 pm
Tue March 25, 2014

OnWords: The Mass Production Of 'Product'

Credit Nestle / Flickr / Creative Commons

The word “product” is shifting.

One of my brothers overheard the following at a big-box retailer the other day: “We have various safety devices to keep product from falling on people.”

This use of product as mass noun stands in distinction to the term “a product,” a term identifying something as, well, produced.  

Read more
Commentary
12:30 pm
Tue March 11, 2014

OnWords: Finding Meaning In The Grains

Credit angela7dreams / Flickr / Creative Commons

At one time, the word granular was almost always reserved for something physical or technical, for example, as a measure of the resolution of a photographic emulsion, or of how fine the sugar.

But recently, I’ve noticed granular used in office settings to indicate a level of detail that the speaker would rather avoid. It’s generally said with a certain tinge of disdain as well, something like, “Well, we could talk about that some other time, but we don’t want to get into the granular level here.”

Read more

Pages