My latest Visual Thesaurus column, "Decoding Fashionspeak," is now available for your reading pleasure—provided, of course, that you have paid the risibly nominal VT subscription fee. Here is an excerpt to tempt you:
The Grammar. To master Fashionspeak, you'll need to learn two new constructions, the Fashion Singular and the Fashion Imperative. In the Fashion Singular, nouns gain by subtraction: It's the skinny pant; a smoky eye (achieved with cosmetics, by the way, not cigarettes); the essential cami. (For cami, see Abbreviations, below.) Singular items are, presumably, more special than their lumpen cousins; they're given their own articles, a or the, almost as honorifics. "To demonstrate your true mastery of this lingo," advises fashion writer Hadley Freeman in her Guardian (U.K.) column, "deploy it only in positive circumstances, e.g., 'Ooh, I do love a kitten heel.'" (For kitten, see The Peculiar Adjectives, below.) Bryan A. Garner, author of the authoritative Garner's Modern American Usage, observes, a bit peevishly, that "clothing retailers lack standardization when referring to trousers" and that "[t]his inconsistency has been around for a long time" — at least since the late 19th century, when both pants and pant emerged as abbreviations of the older pantaloons.
As for the Fashion Imperative, it's the grammatical case fashion editors use to instill fear and desire in their readers. "Must-Have Shoes, Bags & More!" blares InStyle in an all-caps cover headline. "Get in on the season's best ideas with these major must-haves," commands Harper's Bazaar next to photos of a $2,468 clutch purse and a $930 high-heeled sandal. (Major indeed!) The Fashion Imperative also entitles editors to declare that the current season "is all about" pink, or crotch-high mini-skirts, or see-through blouses; to label a particular clothing choice a "Do" or a "Don't" (as Glamour magazine has done for decades, complete with black bars over the eyes of the offending Don'ts); to exalt a T-shirt or a bangle bracelet as Important or Essential; and to give readers monthly marching orders — as Harper's Bazaar does — about what to buy, keep, and store. (Those beaded earrings we ordered you to purchase a few months ago? You're not wearing them now, are you?)
In somewhat related self-promotional news, I was honored to be quoted by Ben Zimmer in his On Language column, "Social," which appeared in Sunday's New York Times Magazine. My contribution was an opinion about the corporate and political uses of "socialize," a subject I wrote about in my Words of the Year post last December. This is the second time Ben—who also happens to be my Visual Thesaurus editor—has used me as a source for his column. The first time was in a column about "Cadillac" as a metaphor; sharp-eyed readers will notice that I've been promoted from "branding consultant" to "branding expert." Thanks, Ben!