I haven’t recommended a book in a while, so this month I’m recommending two, both of them new, both of them about language. (And each one blurbed by the author of the other one, which must be a coincidence, right?)
“Controversial terms, from ‘abortion’ to ‘Zionism,’ tend to shut down dialog because they mean different things to different people.” The AllSides Red Blue Dictionary defines these hot-button terms across the political spectrum: “Until we fully understand what a term means to someone else, we don't know the issue and can't effectively communicate.”
I’m enjoying (and learning from) the short essays Susan Orlean publishes on Medium, especially her stories about the writing craft. Here she is on beginnings and on endings.
Deceased cattle may technically qualify as “dead stock,” but on a ranch or farm, deadstock is the opposite of livestock in a different way: It refers to equipment and implements.
The deadstock on Carol Young’s site is “dead” in the sense of “previously manufactured but unused.” Here’s an excerpt from a deadstock explainer published in September 2019 by Techpacker, a Brooklyn company that helps companies make samples quickly:
Deadstock fabrics are textiles which are sitting around as leftovers and are not part of a plan for immediate or future use. For example, it could be the leftover fabric of a fashion brand’s collection or it could also refer to unused textiles from movie sets or fabric mills.
Deadstock fabric is also known as overstock, surplus or jobber fabric; they all mean the same thing.
This sense of deadstock has been in use for centuries. Here’s the relevant entry (under dead) in OED:
c. Of goods: Lying unsold, unsaleable, for which there is no market.
1670 J. Dryden Tyrannick Love v. i. 64 And all your Goods lie dead upon your hand.
1879 C. Hibbs in Cassell's Techn. Educator IV. 263/2 A large quantity of finished articles lying as dead stock in the market.
In the niche market of athletic-shoe collecting, however, deadstock has a different and specific meaning that began emerging in the early 2000s. A June 2005 Urban Dictionary entry gives a terse definition:
Brand New. Never worn, Never Tried and would usually include a box for the shoes.
Unlike deadstock fabrics, which may have been sitting unremembered for years in a musty warehouse, deadstock shoes are often bought with the intention of future resale at a profit.
Analysts predict the global sneaker resale market will reach $30 billion by 2030; last summer investment bank Cowen estimated the U.S. resale market was worth $2 billion in North America alone. Apart from Supreme, the hottest merch “collab” (usually indicated with an “x,” for example, Supreme x Comme des Garçons) a brand can score is with Nike (Adidas comes in second). Unworn Jordans, Airs, and Dunks — called “deadstock” — are the gold standard of the resale economy — and, really, as liquid and versatile a global currency as a U.S. dollar or a euro, “a bona fide asset class” as Bloomberg Businessweek put it recently. In marketplaces like StockX — founded in 2015 and now valued at over $1 billion — Stadium Goods, and GOAT a valuation of any given shoe can be obtained instantly.
Hat tip to Colin Morris, who posted the Marker link on the ADS-L listserv. He also found an 1897 instance of deadstock being applied to unsold clothing offered for resale in Laotian shops: “felt hats of various antiquated shapes, hard and soft, the deadstock of the shops of Bombay, Calcutta and London.”
But the impeachment took place in January and February, and in March everything changed thanks to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, which has influenced our behavior and our language in ways we couldn’t have anticipated in early 2020. My list this year reflects many of those new COVID-inspired terms, but it also makes room for fashion and politics. Like the American Dialect Society, I give preference to words (or “lexical items”—acronyms and phrases appear here, too) that were new or newly prominent, widely used, and relevant to events of 2020. I’m also interested in words that were linguistically productive: capable of generating creative coinages.
By the way, this is my twelfth consecutive year of posting words of the year. I’m kind of shocked myself.
It’s Word of the Year season, and two British dictionaries are leading the pack. Collins picked lockdown – a word we threw around here in the US but never experienced the way they did in the UK and elsewhere. (A friend of mine is literally confined to her London apartment after spending a month in France: she can’t go outdoors at all.) And Oxford Languages, publisher of the Oxford dictionaries, chose a phenomenon instead of a single word: the impact of the COVID-19 on language. “What struck the team as most distinctive in 2020 was the sheer scale and scope of change,” Katherine Connor Martin, the company’s head of product, told the New York Times’s Jennifer Schuessler. “This event was experienced globally and by its nature changed the way we express every other thing that happened this year.”
“Social distance”: sign in an Oakland produce-store window, May 2020.
Around the world, clothing sales have plummeted since mid-March, when shops closed their doors to slow the spread of COVID-19 and “slob-chic” became the order of the day. According to one estimate published in early August, US apparel sales could shrink by as much as 50 percent in 2020.
There was one odd, notable exception: a frilly, glittery, hyperfeminine, wholly impractical pink dress, printed all over with red strawberries, that became “a viral sensation,” according to Glamour reporter Adrienne Matei, with sales spiking 1,000 percent between late July and mid-August. Created by a 24-year-old designer from Kosovo with the lyrical name Lirika Matoshi, “the strawberry dress,” as it became known, costs $490 and has inspired TikTok tributes, anime fan art, and, inevitably, cheap knockoffs on Amazon and Etsy. The dress is “a bright spot in a dark year,” Matei writes: a perfect representation of “one of 2020’s most popular trends: the ‘cottagecore’ aesthetic, a sweetly pastoral paean to the countryside popularized by the internet’s young romantics.”
Too many words are being invented in response to the COVID-19 pandemic for me to pick just one this week. Thus this update of my March 16 post, which covered quarantini, coronials, coronadouche, and other coinages, some of which have already slipped out of usage.
The Namerology blog picks the defining baby names of the last decade—“The names that were not just hugely popular from 2010-19, but vastly more popular than in decades past…and future. They’re flying high, yet as the ’10s draw to a close they’re already starting to decline from their dizzying popularity peaks.”
Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn combed his newspaper’s archives for the first mentions of products, technologies, ideas, and terms that have become part of life since late 2009. His chronological list goes from A (Angry Birds) to Y (YOLO), and includes a bunch of words and brands you read about here first, including showrooming, FOMO, trigger warning, and antifa.