Verbifying a noun is a popular (lazy) way for ad copywriters to say “Look at how creative and action packed we are!” Two current marketing efforts, from Tylenoland the Natural History Museumof Los Angeles County, perpetuate the trope.
Yuccie: A Young Urban Creative, as defined and described by David Infante, “a 26-year-old writer who lives in a gentrifying neighborhood in Brooklyn,” in an article for Mashable published on June 10. Infante calls yuccies “a slice of Generation Y, borne [sic] of suburban comfort, indoctrinated with the transcendent power of education, and infected by the conviction that not only do we deserve to pursue our dreams; we should profit from them.”
“I am the yuccie,” Infante writes. “And it sounds sort of, well, yucky.”
The promposal-palooza may be influenced by elaborate (and expensive) marriage proposals, which have been proliferating at least since the advent of YouTube in 2005. (“Crazy Marriage Proposal--Guy Falls Off Building,” posted in July 2011, has more than 10 million views to date.)
Prom—“aball or formal dance at a school or college, typically held for the members of a single (typically senior) class near the end of the school year,” according to the OED—emerged in the late 19th century as a shortened form of promenade, which since the mid-16th century had meant “a leisurely walk.” Promenades, usually shortened to Proms, was adopted in early-19th-century Britain to refer to “promenade concerts,” events at which audience members could sit, stand, or walk around. But dancing prom has always been American. The OED’s earliest citation, dated December 5, 1879, is from the Yale Courant, and shows prom as an abbreviation (“the Junior Prom. Com.”). In 1890, the Harvard Crimson signaled the word’s relative novelty by placing it between quotation marks: “T.L. McClung is chairman of the ‘Prom’ committee at Yale.” For decades, prom took a definite article: the senior prom, an invitation to the prom. Then, around 2000 or possibly earlier, the article vanished. “And, yeah, I needed a date for senior prom,” the author Robert B. Parker had a character say in his 2001 crime novel Death in Paradise.*
Stephen Colbert spoofed the promposal trend on his May 7, 2013, show. He defined the word as “a combo of the word pro and mposal,” and then brought on a guest—former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky—to raise the stakes.
Sugar dating: “Pay-for-play relationships between older, wealthy adults (sugar daddies/mommas) and attractive young women and men (sugar babies).” (Source: Newsweek, September 9, 2014)
“Sugar” has been slang for “money” since at least the mid-nineteenth century; “sugar daddy” (an older man who lavishes gifts on a young woman) was originally American slang from the 1920s. “Sugar dating” is much more recent: the earliest reference I found was in a 2011 interview on SheKnows.com with Brandon Wade, the founder and CEO of Seeking Arrangement (a business founded in 2006 for the purpose of creating “mutually beneficial arrangements,” according to Wade).
The July 2014 arrest of Alix Tichelman, 26, in the death of a married 51-year-old Google executive, Forrest Timothy Hayes, whom she met through Seeking Arrangement, brought new attention to the site and others like it. Early reports used the term “sugar daddy website,” but in recent months the term has been streamlined to “sugar dating,” possibly influenced by other “___ dating” compounds such as speed dating, online dating, and blind dating.
Inevitably, discussions about sugar dating invoke the question of its legal status. “Is sugar dating just a genteel form of prostitution, the latest incarnation of an age-old pay-to-play tradition?” asked Lauren Smiley, author of “I’m Rich, You’re Hot: The Cool Mathematics of Sugar Dating,” in the November 2014 San Francisco magazine. “Or is it a form of erotic efficiency, a cut-to-the-chase innovation in a supercharged culture with no time for the dance of courtship?” The Seeking Arrangement website has an explainer page, “Four Differences Between Sugar and Prostitution.” Seeking Arrangement’s PR manager, Angela Jacob Bermudo,told the New York Post in February 2014 that “[p]rostitution is black and white … On Seeking Arrangement, people are coming to find their ideal relationship.”
current civil and criminal laws are insufficient to ensure that prostitution is not taking place within sugar arrangements and suggests that law enforcement infiltrate sugar daddy dating sites to guard against online prostitution.
Budtender: A worker at a dispensary of medical or recreational marijuana who helps customers with their selections. Formed from bud (of marijuana) and bartender.
As of July 2014, 23 states and the District of Columbia had laws legalizing the sale and use of marijuana. Two of them, Washington and Colorado, have made marijuana legal for recreational as well as medical use, and Oregon voters will decide in November whether to legalize adult use of marijuana. With the changing legal climate come new additions to an already fragrant lexicon of cannabis use.
Today, there are “budtenders” (think sommeliers, only they work with cannabis instead of wine) in every dispensary, to help couples who are so inclined find the ideal strains for their weddings. Bec Koop just opened a business, Buds and Blossoms in Alma, Colo., to advise those who want to include marijuana in their centerpieces, dinner salads, bouquets and boutonnieres (or “bud-tonnieres,” as she calls them).
Brady cautioned not to read too much into such enterprises:
It is hard to predict if pot will become more or less popular at weddings in the future. Mark Buddemeyer, a Colorado budtender whose nickname is actually Bud, expressed doubts that marijuana would ever become widely acceptable at weddings.
“We’ve got to get to the point where smoking is classier than drinking,” he said. “A bride blowing out a big cloud of smoke is not necessarily attractive.”
Eating cannabis-infused cake—referred to as a “medible” in the article, a contraction of “medicinal edible”—may find more favor.
Legal marijuana has also spawned many new business names, including several mentioned by Brady: Get High Getaways, a bed-bud-and-breakfast in Denver; Green Life Consulting, “an advisory firm for those who want to start marijuana-based businesses”; and 710 Labs, “which manufactures concentrates like hash oil.” (Why “710”? When you turn the digits upside down they spell “OIL.”)
The earliest citation for budtender in Urban Dictionary is dated April 7, 2010: “a barista that can’t pass a drug test.” A July 4, 2011, definition includes this personal aside:
These are also some of the luckiest motherfuckers on the face of the earth. Despite that, you should still tip them as heavily as you can possibly afford to.
The report did not abbreviate the title, but by early 2012 the condensed form was appearing in the writings of educators and librarians. “The gist,” wrote New York Hall of Science’s Eric Siegel in February 2012, “is that kids learn along this kind of axis or overlapping venn diagram that includes the most casual (Hanging Out), proceeds to a more active and engaged, if still very diffuse mode (Messing Around), to a more focused and productive mode (Geeking Out.)” YOUmedia (“Youth-powered 21st century learning”), in five Chicago public library branches, was funded in part by the MacArthur Foundation “as a next step in the HOMAGO campaign,” as Siegel put it.
Libraries have long facilitated the “finding” of information, [Nevada library consultant Joe Murphy] said. “Now they are facilitating the creating of information.”
That will be evident at the Boston library’s new section for teenagers. Teen Central is to become what is known as “homago” space — where teenagers can “hang out, mess around and geek out.” It will include lounges, restaurant booths, game rooms and digital labs, as well as software and equipment to record music and create comic books. The vibe will be that of an industrial loft, with exposed pipes and polished concrete floors, what [Boston Public Library president Amy] Ryan called “eco-urban chic.”
Watch a video of cultural anthropologist Mizuko (Mimi) Ito, one of the original Digital Youth Project researchers, talking about homago.
The Barbie cover wrap appears on 1,000 copies of the magazine. Inside: a four-page Barbie ad spread. The issue hit newsstands on February 18.
Barbie herself turns 55 this year; her waist has gotten a little thicker, her feet a little flatter, and her thighs even more toothpick-like, but she’s still perky and game. In fact, the theme of the swimsuit-issue ad tie-in is #Unapologetic—yes, with a social-media-friendly hashtag. (New York Times ad critic Stuart Elliott noted that the singer Rihanna got there first with a November 2012 album called “Unapologetic”; Rihanna “often uses the hashtag #Unapologetic in social media,” Elliott wrote.)
The coordinated campaign has kicked up some controversy. But I remained neutral until yesterday, when a full-page ad, designed to look like an open letter, appeared in the main news section of the New York Times.
Now I wish Barbie would #ShutUp.
The headline is clever enough.
“Why posing for Sports Illustrated suits me.”
And the first sentence—“I am a doll”—seems to promise a playful, self-mocking first-person confessional. But the rest—all 500 words of it—is, I am sorry to say, as painful as a hike in five-inch stilettos: awkward, rambling, poorly punctuated, cliché-ridden. It’s like listening to one of those extemporaneous pageant-contestant speeches.
“Over time, I’ve become an icon,” Barbie humble-brags, “and as with all icons, I’ve been pulled into the cultural conversation”:
My bathing suit now hangs beside a Presidential power suit, Pastry Chef hat, and Astronaut gear in a wardrobe reflecting the more than 150 careers I’ve pursued to illustrate for girls that they can achieve anything for which they aim.
That’s a 40-word sentence. Did you make it through all the prepositional phrases? Note the Random Capital Letters and the tortured effort to avoid ending the sentence in a preposition. Barbie loves a zombie rule.
Barbie also loves “conversation”:
Every year, Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit [sic] drums up conversation and controversy.
Barbie is a little confused about what “word” means.
I, for one, am honored to join the legendary swimsuit models. The word “model,” like the word “Barbie®,” is often dismissed as a poseable plaything with nothing to say. And yet, those featured are women who have broken barriers, established empires, built brands, branched out into careers as varied as authors, entrepreneurs and philanthropists. They are all great examples of confident and competent women.
I had not realized that a word could be dismissed as a poseable [sic] plaything.
Naturally, there’s a rousing finale, more appropriate for a middle-school debate tournament than for the nation’s newspaper of record.
So the Swimsuit issue is out, and there’s bound to be a conversation or two about the women in it. Ask yourself, isn’t it time we teach girls to celebrate who they are? Isn’t there room for capable and captivating? It’s time to stop boxing in potential. Be free to launch a career in a swimsuit, lead a company while gorgeous, or wear pink to an interview at MIT. The reality of today is that girls can go anywhere and be anything. They should celebrate who they are and never have to apologize for it.
If you’re keeping score—and since we’re talking about Sports Illustrated, why not?—that’s three “conversation”s.
Forget the sociology and gender politics for a minute: It’s depressing to see such amateurish copywriting from a major American brand. (Barbie is owned by Mattel, whose 2013 revenue was more than $6 billion; sales of Barbie products account for almost half of the revenue.) A full-page ad in the Timescosts between $60,000 and $100,000. For a tiny percentage of that sum, Mattel or its agency could have hired an experienced copywriter to create a witty ad that burnished Barbie’s reputation rather than providing critics with more ammunition.
Then again, the closest Barbie has ever gotten to an actual writing career is “News Anchor.”
Affluenza: “A painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.” – Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic, by John de Graaf et al.(originally published 2001). Coined from affluence and influenza. Affluenza is sometimes defined as a contemporary version of “keeping up with the Joneses.”*
Last week, a juvenile-court judge in Texas apparently took the “influenza” part of “affluenza” seriously when she sentenced Ethan Couch, a 16-year-old from a wealthy Fort Worth family, to a mere 10 years’ probation for killing four people and critically wounding two others in a drunken-driving car crash. Prosecutors had sought a 20-year prison sentence, according to a New York Times story:
Judge [Jean] Boyd did not discuss her reasoning for her order, but it came after a psychologist called by the defense argued that Mr. Couch should not be sent to prison because he suffered from “affluenza” — a term that dates at least to the 1980s to describe the psychological problems that can afflict children of privilege.
A USA Today story went into more detail about the affluenza “affliction,” defining it as a condition “in which children — generally from richer families — have a sense of entitlement, are irresponsible, and make excuses for poor behavior because parents have not set proper boundaries.” The legal ploy quickly was dubbed “the affluenza defense.”
The term in fact dates back to at least October 1979, according to Word Spy, but its earliest documented use—by the Washington Post critic Tom Shales, who may have offhandedly coined the word—was in a nonmedical context. Writing about the author Ann Beattie, Shales noted that “a Boston paper even referred to the people she writes about, usually disenchanted orphans of Affluenza, as The Beattie Generation.”
[Update: A message last week from Christopher Phipps on the American Dialect Society listserv included a 2001 Chicago Tribune article about new words that traced “affluenza” back to 1954. A follow-up message, from Garson O'Toole, provided a 1908 (!) citation from a London publication that included “affluenza.” Clearly, this is a word that has been invented many times over many decades.)
In 1997, PBS aired an hour-long documentary, “Affluenza,” and a “solution-oriented sequel,” “Escape from Affluenza.” The website for the two films treated “affluenza” both as a made-up illness (complete with diagnosis and treatment) and as a quasi-geographic construct (“escape from affluenza”). Also in 1997, Jessie O’Neill, a psychotherapist and a great-granddaughter of a president of General Motors, published The Golden Ghetto: The Psychology of Affluence, in which she defined affluenza as “the psychological dysfunctions of affluence”—“these collective addictions, character flaws, psychological wounds, neuroses, and behavioral disorders caused or greatly exacerbated by the presence or desire for excess money”—and devoted a chapter to exploring the condition.
Since then, affluenza has been the subject of a PhD dissertation at Antioch University and has appeared in the titles of at least four books not by de Graaf et al. It is invoked by lawyers and financial planners who advise wealthy families. It has also spawned at least one semi-jocular, not-very-successful spinoff, afflufemza, coined by Sandra Tsing Loh in 2006 to describe her “malaise,” “wherein the problems of affluence are recast as the struggles of feminism, and you find yourself in a dreamlike state of reading firstperson essays about it, over and over again.”
The Texas affluenza case prompted criticism from psychologists who objected that affluenza is “junk science” (perhaps akin to the Twinkie Defense). Even the psychologist who testified in the trial, G. Dick Miller, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that he regretted using the word. “We used to call these people spoiled brats,” he said.
* Literary footnote: The Joneses of that idiom are sometimes said to be the birth family of the writer Edith Wharton, née Jones (1862-1937). However, The Phrase Finder traces the saying to Arthur (Pop) Momand's Keep Up With The Joneses comic strip in the New York Globe, first published in 1913. According to The Phrase Finder: “The ‘Joneses’ in the cartoon weren't based on anyone in particular, and they weren't portrayed in the cartoon itself. Jones was a very common name and ‘the Joneses’ was merely a generic name for ‘the neighbours.”
Slow TV: Television dramas whose gradual, deliberate pacing and literary structure – “unrushed, atmospheric narratives,” as Salon’s Matt Zoller Seitz described them – demand patience and engagement on the part of the viewer. Current or recent examples include the Danish series “The Killing”; the BBC’s “The Hour”; and the American shows “Mad Men,” “Game of Thrones,” and “The Wire.”
Critic-turned-opinion-writer Frank Bruni, of the New York Times, observed in early April:
Slow TV pushes back at the instant gratification and empty calories of too many elimination contests, too many reality shows, too many efficient, literal-minded forensic dramas that perhaps keep certain plot threads dangling but tie up the episode’s main mystery by the hour’s end.
The descriptor “Slow TV” began appearing in the U.S. press around 2010. In a June 2010 review of “Memphis Beat,” Times TV critic Alessandra Stanley placed Slow TV in context:
Slow Food, a movement that began in Italy in the 1980s as a protest against agribusiness and fast food, promotes organic farming and regional cooking. That cult of less-is-more parochialism spread to other fields, including tourism (Slow Travel) and investment (Slow Money).
Now there is Slow Television.
In November 2010, the Hollywood Reporter’s Tim Goodman included “Rubicon” and “In Treatment” in the category:
These shows are the ultimate examples of what can best be described as Slow TV. It’s not quite a fad or a revolution — and given the dismal ratings, no one involved should feel comfortable about their futures — but you can’t give HBO and AMC enough credit for making shows like this in the first place.
Earlier citations for “slow television” come from Scandinavia, where the term referred to marathon, non-narrative coverage of an ordinary event. In 2009, for example, the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK) aired the complete seven-hour train trip from Bergen to Oslo – and then topped that feat with live coverage of a 134-hour voyage by ship from Bergen to Kirkenes. Both programs were popular successes. In February 2013 NRK aired a 12-hour broadcast about firewood, described as “slow but noble television.”
But the earliest citations I found are from Australia. David Dale, writing in February 2005 for the Sydney Morning Herald, presaged the current meaning of “slow TV” in a column about the slow-paced “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” and “Desperate Housewives”:
It was reminiscent of the marketing campaign for the new Orient Express train in the 1980s: “In a world where everything is fast and cheap, we are very slow and very expensive.” Then in the ’90s came the slow food movement, which argues that human beings are healthier and happier if they take time to appreciate what they are eating. Perhaps we are about to see a “slow television” movement.
(SlowTV is also the name of an Australian Internet channel that delivers “interviews, debates, conversations and public lectures about Australia’s key political, social and cultural issues.”)
In a November 2011 article for the BBC News Magazine, reporter Jon Kelly looked into the rise of slow TV. The growing popularity of the boxed set, which allows viewers to watch long-running programs on their own schedule, accounts for part of it. In addition:
[T]he pace of slow TV invites viewers to actively engage with the programme, rather than their normal treatment as passive, argues Dr Amy Holdsworth, lecturer in film and television studies at the University of Glasgow and an expert in small-screen history.
“Part of the appeal is working things out for yourself,” Dr Holdsworth adds. “They allow the space for viewers to invest in them and make connections for themselves.
“These days there is definitely more of an appreciation of what you can do with TV as a form - you can have so much more character depth in 80 hours than you can in a two-hour film.”
A cursory search of the Internet reveals that people and things referred to in the media as ‘‘rock stars’’ include Rand Paul, the archbishop of Canterbury, the Samsung Galaxy S 4 smartphone, the Swedish mystery writer Camilla Lackberg and Pope John Paul II. Clearly, it’s high time we bought the term a watch and retired it.
—“On Rock Stars and ‘Rock Stars,’” New York TimesSunday Magazine, March 31, 2013. (The article is a bonus feature available in the replica edition to subscribers only. Here’s the accompanying article about business “superstars.”)