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What are you reading right here, right now? A sentence? A paragraph? An article? Yes, yes, and yes, but think more globally and generally. In the universe of 21st-century media and marketing, these words on this website, and the image that accompanies them, are content.
And not only here on the Visual Thesaurus: content is all around. As the old dishwashing-liquid ad used to tell us, we’re soaking in it. Blog posts are content. YouTube videos are content. For the cookware retailer Williams-Sonoma, recipes are content. For General Electric and thousands of other companies, Instagram posts are content. White papers, graphs, podcasts, webinars, e-books: all content.
Content is produced by content creators and content providers, some of whom toil in content farms or content factories. It's distributed through content management systems and shaped by content strategists who may report to a chief content officer for whom content marketing is — as the business author Seth Godin put it in 2008 — “the only marketing that’s left.”
As others correctly pointed out, fellow here means “a person receiving a fellowship”—a financial grant. This is just one of many historical senses of fellowship; others include “companionship,” “alliance,” “spiritual communication,” “the crew of a vessel,” “trade guild,” and “sexual intercourse.”
In the title of the first volume of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, fellowship signifies a “company” or “association.”
It’s true that “man, male person” is one of the senses of fellow, but it’s not the original one. The OED includes that sense only after many others, including “partner, companion,” “accomplice,” “comrade,” “a member of a company, college, or society,” and “something that resembles another specified thing.” In Old English, as in the Scandinavian languages from which it derives, fellow meant a companion of either sex; its sources are fé (property, money; related to modern fee) and lag (that which is laid down, an arrangement; related to law). The “man” sense of fellow didn’t come along until Middle English, in the late 14th century. The casual pronunciation feller was first recorded around 1825; fellah – attested from 1864 – was eventually shortened to fella.
In my latest column for the Visual Thesaurus, I take a deep dive into deep, a word with a surprisingly tenacious hold on our shallow 21st-century minds. Deepfake, deep state, deep learning, Deep Throat: whether we want to convey complexity or mystery, we turn to a word with deep roots in the English language.
“Deep Thoughts by Jack Handey,” a series of deadpan, slightly surrealistic epigrams, originated on National Lampoon and became a recurring feature on Saturday Night Live between 1991 and 1998. Handey maintains a Deep Thoughts website with merch and a Deep Thought of the Day. Sample: “Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you criticize them, you are a mile away from them and you have their shoes.”
Full access to the column is restricted to subscribers. Here’s a taste:
I’m stepping away from my desk until the middle of next week, so I’ll leave you with links to some of my recent (and in the case of the Visual Thesaurus, not-so-recent but finally un-paywalled) writing.
Few of us are likely to duplicate the feat of Ammon Shea, who read all 21,730 pages of the Oxford English Dictionary and in 2008 published a book about his accomplishment. (I wrote about Reading the OED here and here.) But anyone with a spare 45 minutes can easily and pleasurably gambol through the 400 or so words in The Dictionary of Difficult Words, a pulchritudinous and edifying new book by Dictionary.com lexicographer Jane Solomon, with cheerful illustrations by Louise Lockhart.
The book’s primary audience is children between the ages of 7 and 12, but as Jane* writes in an author’s note, “it’s written to appeal to adults as well. … This book welcomes all readers, even those who would never sit down and read a traditional dictionary cover to cover.”
And even adults who are possessed of a reasonably expansive vocabulary and pretty good Scrabble skills will discover new words in The Dictionary of Difficult Words. I certainly did.
Curious about the origins of the “__ Nation” formula—Live Nation, Pantsuit Nation, Side Hustle Nation? I dig deep (and explore the side routes of national and nationalism) in my latest column for the Visual Thesaurus, “A Nation of ‘Nations‘.” Full access is restricted to subscribers; here’s an excerpt:
The political sense of nation—an organized community sharing a defined territory and government—emerged around 1400 and gradually predominated, although the earlier meaning survives in the use, since the 1640s, of nation to describe indigenous American peoples: Choctaw Nation, Cherokee Nation. (The specifically Canadian “First Nations” began to be used in the 1970s; it applies to indigenous peoples south of the Arctic Circle and replaces “Indian,” which is both inaccurate and, according to some people, offensive.)
Nation didn’t turn into the adjective national until the 1590s (“the nationall assemblie”); the noun sense of national—a citizen or subject of a specified state—emerged in the mid-19th century. (Then there’s the Grand National, which is a horse race if you’re English, Irish, or Scottish, and a rodeo if you’re Californian.) Nationalism, defined as “advocacy or support of the interests of one’s own nation, usually to the detriment or exclusion of any other nation’s interests”) is a little older: The OED’s earliest citation is from 1798. An 1844 citation from Fraser’s Magazine for Town and Country declares that “Nationalism is another word for egotism.”
Z Nation is an American action/horror/comedy-drama/post-apocalyptic television series that aired from 2014 to 2018 on the SyFy network. The Z stands for “zombie.”
Here’s something you probably didn’t know about me: I’m an influencer. At least Nordstrom thinks I am; I’ve racked up enough Nordy Club points to attain that semi-exalted status. But what does it mean?
My latest column for the Visual Thesaurus looks at ancient and contemporary meanings of influence and influencer, words that got a recent boost from a mysterious egg on Instagram and from Pope Francis’s Twitter account. Full access to the column is restricted to subscribers; here’s an excerpt:
The original “influencer” book was Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, published in 1936 and never since out of print. The “influence” in Carnegie's title is an old word, derived from the Latin for "flowing in," that was originally used in English in the 14th century to refer to the streaming of a fluid from the planets or stars that affected human behavior. (Astrology, in other words.) The viral disease known since the 1700s as “influenza” – Italian for “influence” – was originally attributed to occult or atmospheric influences; it started being abbreviated as “flue” around 1839, and as “flu” about six decades later. “Under the influence” (of alcohol) appeared in the 1860s; Mark Twain was one of the first to use the phrase. “Influence peddler” – a not-entirely-laudatory term for a person with the connections to arrange lucrative government contracts (for a fee) – entered the lexicon around 1949.
Today’s influencers are also selling connections, but those connections are measured in Instagram follower counts and YouTube “likes” instead of Senate votes. The professional influencer may be a teenager paid to promote juice or scented candles; it may even be an animal. (Yes, there are dogfluencers. And also fitfluencers, twinfluencers, and – my favorite spinoff – outfluencers, influential outdoors enthusiasts. For several years there was a parody Twitter account, @ProfJeffJarvis, that mocked the real Jeff Jarvis, a media and tech writer, as a “thinkfluencer.") The promotion – also known as “sponcon,” for “sponsored content” – isn't top down, like a TV commercial or billboard, but embedded in your social-media feed, “shared by someone who seems, on some aspirational level, like a peer,” as Annalisa Quinn wrote last year in the New York Times Magazine.
This month we give thanks for WOTY, dictionaries, diet jargon, naming advice, and more.
Word-of-the-year season kicks off in traditional fashion with the Oxford Dictionaries selection. This year it’s toxic, as in toxic masculinity and toxic chemical. Interestingly, toxic derives from the Greek term for word for “poisoned arrow,” but only the “arrow” part. Toxic won out over other words on the shortlist, including incel, gaslighting,big dick energy, and gammon, the last of which was a Fritinancy word of the week in May. Oxford’s word of the year is “a word of expression that is judged to reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of the passing year, and have lasting potential as a term of cultural significance.” Read more.