I’ve been thinking about outrage since listening to an episode of NPR’s “Hidden Brain,” “How Outrage Is Hijacking Our Culture, and Our Minds,” which originally aired on October 9. The episode centers on the research of Yale psychologist Molly Crockett, who has written that “moral outrage is all the rage online,” and that “digital media may exacerbate the expression of moral outrage by inflating its triggering stimuli, reducing some of its costs and amplifying many of its personal benefits.”
This week, a lot of outrage is directed at a phenomenon with an unrelated but similar-looking name: outage. I’m not the only one.
October 2019 marks the centenary of the Volstead Act, the federal legislation that led to the passage of the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution—and to the misguided 13-year social experiment known as Prohibition. From January 1, 1920, until Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s inauguration in March 1933, the manufacture, sale, and importation of “intoxicating liquors” were officially outlawed. As everyone knows, all of those activities flourished illicitly.
I feel uncharacteristically moved by the Halloween spirit this year—the ghastly, chilling spirit, not the sexy-Mr.-Rogers-costume spirit, I hasten to add. Last week, the spirit manifested itself in an investigation of macabre. This week I’m drawn to cursed, a word that New Yorker writer Jia Tolentino notes “has become central in the online vernacular.” In her essay “How We Came to Live in ‘Cursed’ Times,” published October 7, Tolentino points to the Twitter account Cursed Images, an Instagram account called Cursed Shirts (defined by its creator as “bad shirts”), and a suspended Twitter account called Cursed TikToks (which posted “the cringiest of the cringiest TikTok videos ever made,” according to a DailyDot report).
The video depicts a mass shooting in a church by a lone assassin who looks very much like the grinning 45th president of the United States. It is violent, gruesome, tasteless, and obviously faked, but the adjective the New York Times editors chose for the headline above Monday’s story was none of those words. It was, instead, macabre, a word with a long, lurid, and murky history.
The organizer of the American Priority event at which the video was screened said the video was part of a “meme exhibit.”
Long-time listener here, but I’m the first to admit to some gaps in my knowledge of radio history. Oh, sure, I knew that US radio and TV call letters begin with “W” for stations east of the Mississippi and “K” for stations west of the Mississippi*, and that Canadian stations’ call signs begin with “C.” I recognized many call letters as representing the networks that owned or operated them: KABC, WCBS, KPBS. I knew that the call signs of many public-radio stations include the initials of the colleges and universities that house their studios: KFJC (Foothill Junior College), KCSM (College of San Mateo), KPCC (Pasadena City College), WBUR (Boston University Radio). And I appreciated the Bay Area references in many local stations’ call letters: KABL, KFOG, KOIT (for Coit Tower, one of the city’s quirkier landmarks).
I also knew one call sign whose initials stood for a phrase: Chicago’s WGN, for “World’s Greatest Newspaper,” aka the Chicago Tribune. But it wasn’t until I started watching Ken Burns’s excellent eight-episode Country Music on PBS (that’s Public Broadcasting System, in case you didn’t already know) that I learned how many other early call signals—though randomly assigned—took on extra character as initialisms for slogans and phrases used as commercial gimmicks or mnemonics.
Undated ad for WSM, which began broadcasting from Nashville on October 5, 1925.
You know what an apostrophe is. It’s the little squiggle above the baseline in don’t and it’s that substitutes for a missing letter (o and i, respectively). Or it’s the little squiggle that denotes possession, because there is in fact a missing letter in those words: In Chaucer’s time, genitives (the linguistic term for what we casually call possessives) were formed by inserting an e before the s (the doges bone). We get apostrophe from Greek, with stops in Latin and French; the original form means “avert, turn away,” which is why we also use apostrophe for the rhetorical device of “turning away” to briefly address some person or thing—as one often does, say, on Twitter.
A study of 597 logos found that “descriptive logos more favorably impact consumers’ brand perceptions than nondescriptive ones, and are more likely to improve brand performance.” (Harvard Business Review)
Old descriptive logos (left) vs. new nondescriptive logos (right).
But they wasn’t the only timely new entry. My attention was drawn to deep state, a term with a relatively short history in US English—M-W dates its first appearance to 2000, but doesn’t provide a citation—and a close connection to conspiracy theories.