The verb to emote has been around for more than a century; backformed from emotion, it means “to express (excessive) emotion, especially in a play, film, or other entertainment.” It first appeared in print in the early years of the twentieth century, originally in the United States. What’s new(ish) is the noun emote as it’s used in online gaming, or, as the activity is now known, esports (pronounced ee-sports, not ess-ports). This emote evolved from emoticon, a blend of emotion and icon that originally (in the 1990s) referred to static combinations of keyboard characters like ;-).
Today, emotes are often animated, semi-realistic figures created with computer commands.
“Is there a Trump firing bracket?” asked Josh Marshall, the editor and publisher of Turning Points Memo on Twitter. It was the beginning of March Madness, the annual NCAA basketball championship, and the middle – or the beginning of the middle, or the end of the beginning – of a dizzying string of dismissals from the White House. The latest departure: FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, two days before he would have been eligible to retire with his full pension.
“We kind of gave him—‘All right, you get a mulligan. You get a do-over here,’” Tony Perkins, the president of the conservative Family Research Council, told Politico’s Isaac Dovere last Tuesday. By “him” Perkins meant the president of the United States. Perkins used the same term in an interview that day with CNN’s Erin Burnett: “Yes, evangelicals, conservatives, they gave him a mulligan. They let him have a do-over. They said we’ll start afresh with you and we’ll give you a second chance.” And he repeated it twice on Thursday in a post he published on FRC.org under his own byline titled “On Morals and Mulligans…” He meant mulligan in its “political” sense, he told his evangelical followers:
I’m not saying his performance as president can buy him grace -- only Christ can do that. And while evangelicals can give him a mulligan regarding their political support, only through repentance and God's forgiveness can he have a totally new start.
Yes, Perkins called in to CNN from Pride, Louisiana. His Twitter bio gives Washington, DC, as his location; it’s where the FRC is headquartered.
My latest column for the Visual Thesaurus, “Laughing Matters,” looks at the spread of ludicrous, ridiculous, and absurd (and their adverbial counterparts) as positive intensifiers. Full access to the column is restricted to subscribers; here’s an excerpt.
On the language-of-humor scale, where funny, droll, and amusing are positive or neutral, ludicrous, ridiculous, and absurd have traditionally skewed negative: You might say yes to an amusing hat, but not a ridiculous one. And yet here we are in Branding Land, circa 2017, where disparaging modifiers such as ridiculous are paired with positive words like delicious and attached to messages intended to persuade and sell, such as "Ridiculously Tasty Beer" (for Full Sail brewery), "Ludicrous Small Batch" (for the new Seven Caves Spirits distillery), and "Absurdly Fresh Groceries" (Good Eggs grocery-delivery service).
“Ludicrous performance”: poster in Tesla showroom, Glendale, California.
One source for this semantic shift may be the language of sports, where, as language maven Ben Yagoda told me via Twitter, sportscasters have evinced a "recent fondness for calling a great play 'ridiculous'" (or even, sometimes, "stupid"). I don't follow sports closely enough to have noticed this trend, so I looked it up. In short order I discovered "One of the most ridiculous [read: excellent] plays of the 2017 season" (SB Nation), "Manny Machado Made a Ridiculous [read: impressive] Play Yesterday" (NBC Sports), "a ridiculously [read: outstandingly] good closer" (Business Insider, on Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Kenley Jansen), and "ridiculously [read: extremely] fast" (in a 2007 book about baseball). I also found plenty of stupidly intensifiers, and not only in sportswriting: "stupidly fiery" hot peppers, "Stupidly Simple Snacks" (a cooking show), "The Stupidly Simple Way to Stop Bombing on Your Goals," and many more.
The word first flip-flopped from negative to positive in the late 1950s, cropping up in jazz circles. The Oxford English Dictionary dates the usage back to 1959 (“His technique is ridiculous!”) and quotes the 1960 book “The Jazz Word” as saying, “To a jazzman...ridiculous is wonderful.” A 1955 interview with Dave Brubeck in the oral history “Hear Me Talkin’ To Ya” may offer a clue to how being ridiculous became respected in the jazz world. Brubeck describes how a jazz combo can begin with an arrangement and then have soloists freely improvise, before “going out” with the arrangement again. “And when we’re playing well,” Brubeck explains, “the out parts are ridiculous, usually, because the inner parts have come up to the level where you’re truly improvising.”
The word may be unfamiliar to you – it was to me, until a few weeks ago – but you undoubtedly know a jabroni or two. We all do. He – it’s always a he – isn’t mean enough to be called a jerk. He’s annoying, but not as obnoxious as a douchebag. He’s not as contemptible as an asshole, an epithet Geoffrey Nunberg defines, in his 2012 book The Ascent of the A-Word, as having at its heart “a culpable obtuseness—about one’s own importance, about the needs of others and the way one is perceived by them.” *
To call someone a jabroni, by contrast, is to mock rather than to condemn. The very sound of jabroni – a coined word with an Italianate flair – evokes ridiculousness and loserdom. Unlike jerk, asshole, and douchebag, the word doesn’t originate in obscenity; it comes instead from the colorful, carnival-influenced world of professional wrestling.
Wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, credited with popularizing “jabroni.”
In early 2016, when Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign was looking for a way to connect with supporters and recruit volunteers, it turned to Hustle, a mass texting platform that had been created barely 18 months earlier. Sanders eventually lost the Democratic nomination, but San Francisco-based Hustle hustles on, shifting its efforts toward the anti-Trump resistance. Hustle’s goals may be more overtly political than those of other technology startups, but the company’s name perfectly encapsulates an entire industry’s ethos: move fast, be aggressive, shake things up.
Hustle is far from a new word or concept; it’s been in the English lexicon for nearly 350 years. It comes from Dutch husselen, which means “to shake,” but it quickly developed additional senses in English, including “to crowd or push roughly,” “to obtain by fraud or deception,” “to steal,” “to beg,” and – by the 1920s – “to swindle.” (The noun form followed the same semantic route.) As early as 1825, a “hustler” was a thief; a century later, it could refer to a prostitute. Writing in the 1890s about his travels through “Our Great West,” Julian Ralph observed that “The key-note and countersign of life in these cities [of the U.S. West] is the word ‘hustle.’ We have caught it in the East. but we use it humorously, just as we once used the Southern word ‘skedaddle,’ but out West the word hustle is not only a serious term, it is the most serious in the language.”
At its annual meeting, held this year in Austin, the American Dialect Society selected a two-word lexical item as its word of the year for 2016: dumpster fire. And it set a precedent by including an emoji representation of the term in its announcement of the vote.
Yes, that’s a wastebasket, not a dumpster. More about that later.
Why dumpster fire? “As 2016 unfolded, many people latched on to dumpster fire as a colorful, evocative expression to verbalize their feelings that the year was shaping up to be a catastrophic one,” Ben Zimmer, chairman of the society's new words committee, said in the press release. “In pessimistic times, dumpster fire served as a darkly humorous summation of how many viewed the year’s events.”
The American Name Society is accepting nominations for Names of the Year, with the winners to be announced at the society’s annual meeting in Austin, Texas, on January 5, 2017. Anyone can play; submit your nominations before January 3.
Here are my own nominations in the categories established by ANS – names “that best illustrate, through their creation and/or use during the past 12 months, important trends in the culture of the United States and Canada.”