There’s a word for that!

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By Greg Markley

Think what Starbucks is to Wi-Fi seekers and Red Bull is to students needing a jolt of energy. That is what the Oxford English Dictionary, which began work on its first edition in 1857, is to language clarification and proper usage. It catalogues the innovations and adaptations of the English language. The second edition, nearly 22,000 pages in 20 volumes, was published March 1989.
Dictionaries have critics: rapper Kanye West said that “If we go on your iPhone and go to the dictionary and look up ‘humble,’ 80% of the definition is negative. It’s a controlling word. It’s a way to control the masses and to control the sheep.” Oxford Dictionaries are no sheep, but they have for years published a Word of the Year contest resulting in colorful and even questionable entries.
Here, I list new words presented in recent years and state my grade for each, as being powerful or not. I solicit your ratings through opelikaobserver.com. The Word for 2017 was youthquake, defined as “a significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people.” Grade-88%. Youth were not the decisive factor in the 2018 midterms (suburban women were) and Brexit in Britain was driven by the rebellion of mostly middle-agers.
One of 2017’s shortlisted words was Antifa, or “a political protest movement comprising autonomous groups affiliated by their militant opposition to fascism and other forms of extreme right-wing ideology.” Grade-92%.
It is a word that caught on fast, but the right sees it as more prone to violence than does the left, which generally welcomes any anti-establishment and anti-Trump efforts.
Another 2017 finalist was Milkshake Duck, which means “a person or thing who initially inspires delight on social media but is soon revealed to have a distasteful or repugnant past.” Grade-87%. This term will decline fairly soon because it has a short shelf life. That is, new terms for the same thing are likely to diminish this one. It is described by a tweet: “The whole internet loves Milkshake Duck! Five seconds later We regret to inform you the duck is racist!”
In 2018, the Word of the Year was toxic, for “poisonous” or “imbued with poison.” Grade-94%.
When this word is used, it is usually spot-on. It’s how to describe Prince Harry years ago when he donned a Nazi uniform at a party. It would be apt for talk-show host Rosie O’Donnell trying to sing the National Anthem. The only problem I see is exaggerations, which abuse the word.
Two more words from 2017 stand out. First is gaslighting, or “the action of manipulating someone by psychological means into accepting a false depiction of reality or doubting their own sanity.” Grade-89%. It is based on the 1938 play Gas Light by Patrick Hamilton in which a man convinces his wife into believing that she is going insane. This term will fade as references to the play and 1944 Oscar-winning film with Ingrid Bergman will be unknown to most people.
Second is orbiting, or “the action of abruptly withdrawing from direct communication with someone while still monitoring, and sometimes responding to, their activity on social media.” Grade—95%.
My reason here is that orbiting sounds like a nice, compact IT term that many millennials will love. But for Baby Boomers such as me, having someone talking to us and a moment later suddenly going full-bore on social media seems a little pretentious and a lot rude.
Merriam-Webster recently released a list of new words it has added to its online dictionary. From Politics and Law comes Deep state, for “an alleged secret governmental network operating extra-legally. Also, Red flag law, “a law allowing courts to prevent people who show signs of being a danger to themselves or others from having access to firearms.”
From the field of recreation there is Pickleball, “a newly popular court sport played with short-handled paddles and a perforated plastic ball.” Regarding race, Merriam-Webster is adding Colorism, for “prejudice or discrimination especially within a racial or ethnic group favoring people with lighter skin over those of darker skin.” Finance has a newly-included word, Haircut, meaning a new sense was added meaning “a reduction in the value of an asset.”
In the end, a person should not run to the barriers every time a bunch of new words are revealed by social interactions, travels, and the Oxford English Dictionary. Just choose your words, but have some knowledge of their preferred usage. To quote President Kennedy: “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
Greg Markley has lived in Lee County for 18 of the last 23 years. An award-winning journalist, he has master’s degrees in education and history. He has taught as an adjunct in Alabama and Georgia.

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