Some words get out of hand.
They become overused, used in a way that no longer resembles their original use, aren’t even words at all, but text acronyms, or are just plain stupid words that get way too much airtime because someone somewhere used them with a hashtag and they became a thing.
These words generally run their course. Every year, some pretty flash and fancy pants people in the media and academia try and help some of the more ridiculous words run their course more quickly by including them in lists called The List of Banished Words. If ever a word was to feel rejected, being included on this list would be that time. Sadly, the fine work of the BBC, New York Times, Time Magazine and Lake Superior State University, are more wish lists than lists that tweeters and instagrammars actually adhere to.
There’s always hope.
The 2015 list is up and running and so far it already surpasses lists from other years in the amount of words that are so darned annoying that we want to stick our fingers in our ears and sing Shake it off maniacally to ourselves just so we can’t hear them.
What does it say about us that this list is so long? Why are we making up so many annoying words?
Perhaps it’s a good thing. Language is evolving to meet the times and trends and in the face of certain world events and accelerated social phenomena we have emotions we just can’t express in what is currently available to us.
And, while I might be talking about all this in some sort of tone of superiority and disdain, I have to sheepishly admit that I’ve used some of these words myself. You know, you hear something so often, it just gets in.
I certainly have never referred to anyone as bae, the affectionate term for the person you put before anyone else, nor have I pulled out an “I can’t even” to describe a situation which the speaker can’t even comprehend, but actually sounds as though they can’t even finish a sentence. I haven’t described anyone as cra-cra or bossy (in the sense of cool).
I have, sigh, pulled out foodie, polar vortex, skill set, hipster and hashtag, although with hashtag I was being ironic. These are all on the 2015 list. I’m up there with the people using the banished words. Yup. Humble pie.
And here I set aside that serve of the pie to concentrate on one word that I think has completely got out of hand. It has been building for a while and it is on this year’s list.
It’s everywhere. They’re all doing it, curating this and that and trying to sound high brow.
Originally a curator was someone associated with a museum, library or archive. They had a degree in a specialised field, knew a whole lot about their particular area of content and were responsible for an institution’s collections. They would oversee the acquisition and maintenance of items in the collection and interpret these items, that is, explain their context, why they were in the collection and how they might relate to other items.
Nowadays, curate has really come to mean any act of choosing something and including it in a list, a store, a menu, a playlist. There are curated websites, like Etsy or Brainpickings, where someone else has done all the scouring the internet and found the most interesting products or articles and put them all together so you can just sit down and read. In this sense, it has replaced the term formerly known as aggregating, where software was used to pull content, particularly news reports, from a whole lot of different sources and then publishes it in one place. Curating, on the other hand, is a manual process where the most significant pieces of content for the topic and the audience are selected from everything else that is out there.
I don’t mind that use of curating. I actually kind of like it. And I understand why it is so prevalent. Currently there is a hankering for all that is artisan, done the way it used to be done, properly, with care, by hand. The manual selection of the most relevant and the best fits that way of thinking.
I don’t think that the selection of mussel dishes I tasted at the media preview of an upcoming event were curated, even though the invitation said they were. I don’t think we can curate lipsticks, cat videos, Tony Abbott memes or recipes using coconut sugar. But that’s just me.
I do think that in a world of Facebook friend lists in the several hundreds, Instagram likes and Tinder swipes, we could maybe be a little more discerning in the way we select the people we call our friends and those we discard; the information we allow ourselves to be distracted with and the information we ignore; the experiences we seek and those we overlook.
Some words get out of hand. And some could do with being taken by the hand.
Me at the museum, Tiny Ruins
(Hand sculpture by Tim Middleton)