February’s nearly over and I usually dedicate a post around this time to review the annual “Banned Words” list, but this year I’ll take a pass. There’s only so much pet-peevishness I can take, and that exercise in public griping drifted over the line from entertaining to annoying several years ago. There’s nothing worth discussing on it this year that hasn’t been covered better elsewhere (but if you’re interested, you’ll find it here).
Instead, I’ll stick with the spirit of my recent posts on Words of the Year (and Part 2) and discuss several interesting words (and ideas) that I encountered over the past year. None of these words was strictly new in 2017, but they were either new to me or I noticed them being used in new ways that deserved attention. I’ve done only superficial research into their deeper origins, so what follows should be taken as incomplete.
identitarian / identitarianism — term used by members of certain European nationalist political groups to describe themselves. The movement gained attention last year when members chartered a ship and set sail ostensibly to defend the southern shores of White, Christian Europe from invading hordes of refugees. That makes the parallel with the militia movement in the US—some have in the past gone to the Mexican border to protect White, Christian America against other imagined invading hordes—fairly explicit. I can’t help but think of identitarians as the European navy of the alt-right. These groups are frequently described as xenophobic, anti-immigrant, racist, isolationist, and/or anti-Islamic White nationalists and conspiracy theorists. Those shared beliefs loosely unite numerous groups that otherwise seem to have little in common.
The movement has been around for more than a decade but remains small; whether it’s stable, growing, or shrinking isn’t obvious from the materials I’ve read. The identitarian pleasure cruise was a failure, outside of serving as a publicity stunt. Identitarian is not a totally new word; it has been used occasionally since at least the 1940s to describe similar insular ideological leanings (including an aspect of Nazi philosophy).
xennial — term describing the purported sandwich generation between “Generation X” and “Millennial,” pegged by many as those born from 1977 to 1983. Merriam-Webster has found a first use in 2014, and claims the word is becoming established, but I don’t see much evidence of that (so far). For a group that in theory is about 25% of the size of the millennials, use of the label online is outnumbered something like 200 to 1. There’s dispute over the pronunciation, with some lobbying for “zennial” although to me anything but “ex-ennial” defeats the purpose of the word.
If the term has legs, it’s probably as a gimmicky marketing label. My instinct is that it’s already on track to become nothing more than a nonsense term used by those who aren’t comfortable with the fact that generational labels are essentially a spectrum disorder. For example, I’m too young to be a baby boomer, but the Gen X label never fit well, either; that doesn’t mean I need to be a part of a fabricated “Boom-X” generation.
adhocracy — term used to describe the governing style of the Trump administration, essentially a decision-making process built only on reacting to the immediate crisis; portmanteau of ad hoc and bureaucracy.
I first encountered the word this year (used in the sense above), but this one dates to 1968 and has an accepted definition that’s very different: any form of organization that cuts across normal bureaucratic lines to capture opportunities, solve problems, and get results. The idea seems to have had some popularity in management theory since the mid 1970s, especially in the early ’90s. Both the older and newer definitions have merit, but since they’re in direct opposition to each other that could spell death for this term.
ethnostate — another alt-rightish political term; a political unit based on ethnic identity. While the concept is often credited to Nazi ideology, and feels like it’s probably been around awhile in specialized circles, it actually seems to be of very recent coinage. I’ve so far been unable to find any use of the term farther back than late 2016. It’s essentially the same as “ethnic nationalism” or “ethno-nationalism,” which have probably been used since at least the late 1950s. That concept isn’t radically different from what, prior to the mid-20th century, was known simply as “nationalism,” which has likely been with us since the dawn of civilization.
rough sleeper — a homeless person. This was my favorite britishism learned last year, and probably also the most interesting new euphemism. Some claim that it doesn’t mean a homeless person, but instead more properly describes “someone who sleeps in places or conditions where people aren’t meant to sleep.” That seems like a distinction without a difference, so I’ll stick with the definition used by Oxford: a person who sleeps without adequate shelter, especially on the streets of a town or city; a homeless person.
There’s something unsettling and dishonest to me about this phrase, as if it’s trying to turn
homelessness into something voluntarily chosen by rugged individualists; perhaps usage in the UK doesn’t carry that doublespeak connotation.
The phrase has been used before; in railway construction, a sleeper is a cross tie, with a rough sleeper apparently being one that simply hasn’t been carefully finished. It’s also, as you might guess, sometimes been used to describe someone who sleeps badly. In the context of homelessness, rough sleeper seems to date from at least the early 1970s, but also seems to have been used only rarely until recently.
partyism — Specifically in the context I’ve recently encountered it: loyalty to a party or ideology to such a degree that anyone not showing the same political beliefs is seen as an enemy (and possibly not entirely human).
The traditional definition, dating to at least the 1830s, is less extreme: devotion to a political party; also, the practice of supporting someone or something not on the merits but simply based on political affiliation. It might be American in origin, arising out of concerns that the two-party system still taking hold at that time was corrupting our democratic ideals and aspirations. Ah, for simpler times.
Now, it seems to be used primarily to describe how the voters of the two major parties continue to move farther apart, with each less and less likely to either cross party lines or to view members of the opposite party as thinking, rational, dignified human beings with a legitimate point of view. It’s used as an equivalent to racism, founded purely on partisan
ideology rather than biological, ethnic, or cultural perceptions.
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There you have it. Some of the interesting words and phrases that caught my attention over the past year. I’ll continue to keep my eyes and ears open to new terms and new usages to share them—and I hope that you’ll do the same.