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Words, seasonal & unseasoned |

Arts and Culture

Words, seasonal & unseasoned

KRIPOTKIN - Alfred A. Yuson - The Philippine Star

Oxford Dictionaries’ 2017 Word of the Year has met with litlle approval, especially in the United States (and I suspect, in other anglophone countries).

While “youthquake” — defined as “a significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people” — may have been propped up by a spike in British usage, owing to the surprising turnout of young voters in support of opposition parties in this year’s elections in U.K. and New Zealand, its selection fails to impress the jury worldwide.

Not that it’s seen as a particularly localized choice, since optimists believe millennials should be revving up to strive for change in the wake of a divisive and turbulent year. But as The Washington Post opines, “youthquake” is a word that nobody actually uses — not since Vogue editor Diane Vreeland coined it way back in 1965. Oh, in 1985 “Youthquake” also served as the title of an album from British pop group Dead or Alive.

Oxford’s Word of the Year winners are supposedly picked for their “lasting potential as a word of cultural significance.” But the bets are off on this one, judging from its generally lukewarm reception.

The runner-up word “broflake” in turn describes “a man who is offended by progressive attitudes that conflict with his more conservative views.” Broflakes are said to mock progressives as overly sensitive “snowflakes.” But it hasn’t caught on much either, despite broflakes’ apparent presence in politics and government in the US, as well as in our neck of the ocean.

Since 2004 when Oxford first started this practice, it’s been a hit-or-miss affair. In 2015 its choice of “pictograph” generated confusion and controversy, with the contention that it wasn’t a word but an emoji: the face with tears of joy.

Among other recent winners, “selfie” in 2013 and “post-truth” last year may be said to have hit the mark — with 2014’s “vape” meriting weak recognition.

Rival dictionary maker Merriam-Webster chose “feminism” as this year’s word. Uhhm, rather late and too general, one may say. It might as well have been the phrase “silence breakers” — as Time tagged its 2017 Person of the Year in tribute to both the women and men of the #MeToo movement spawned by charges of sexual harassment and abuse.

Meanwhile, in the US, another ruckus has been raised by the so-called CDC “banned words” — seven of them, including phrases, that were officially deemed inappropriate for use in documents of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These are: “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”

The Trump administration has apparently developed an allergy or extreme sensitivity to the common vocabulary of liberals and progressives. It’s a wonder that broflakes didn’t include “climate change” in that quirky list. 

But trust poets to jump at the opportunity to make parodic light of the situation. Very quickly, two of our Fil-Am poets issued separate calls for submission of verses using these banned words and phrases. Apart from showing support for women’s rights groups and LGBT activists that decried “the low regard in which issues of sexual orientation, gender identity and abortion rights are held in the Trump administration,” the “antennae of the race” picked up fast on a matter involving language rights.

The first call-to-arms I read was from our premier poet and educator based in Virginia, Luisa Igloria, who asked poets: “Let’s write a CDC banned words renga (collaborative poem)” using any of the seven words in a line of poetry. Her initial example read: “— a world of forms, each as vulnerable as the next: no entitlement in the face of disease and death —”

Other lines came in from first-responders, mostly from American poets, but our Manila-based poet-in-Filipino Rebecca T. Añonuevo did everyone better with a full poem (which I hope she won’t mind my quoting in full here, as excerpting it would dissipate its intrinsic power): “Some things I think I know,/ like diversity,/ Are thrown out the door/ of entitlement/ Because the mind insists/ on evidence-based/ Claims of love or equality;/ no, it doesn’t exist./ It can’t, unless they see me/ splattered with blood,/ Or divided, as Solomon’s sword/ would have it,/ A fetus crying for life, only/ a true mother could hear.”

Indefatigable as ever, California-based poet and editor Eileen Tabios also issued “A Call for THE ANTHOLOGY THAT WRITES ITSELF, which would be poets writing poems addressing the Administration’s ban of 7 words.” She offered her own quick poem that ends in this wise: “In that science based on evidence, fragility/ is not the domain only of the vulnerable, like/ ?the fetus. Nor is transgender a synonym for/ weakness. Diversity’s inescapable reality/ will burn down the castle walls of entitlement/ No one can be protected from light”

Subsequently, Tabios announced receipt of “some powerful work,” and that the conceived anthology-in-progress now has the working title, “The Evidence of Fetal Diversity.” She’s set the deadline for submission to as December 23. I hope our home-based poets who may read this can appeal for an extension of that deadline.

Normally, I’d tell poetry aspirants that big fat words, mostly of an asbtract nature, are to be avoided when writing poetry, since they offer no graphic wealth for a reader’s mental screen. True force is better provided by imagery. Besides, a briefer word, like “freedom,” is preferable to “independence.”

Flabby abstract nouns — such as “objectification, miscegenation, commodification” — are better-suited to essays and academic or corporate jargon. Even relatively short words — such as “racism, feminism, misogyny” — and polysyllabic words have little place in poetry, except perhaps when used in the spirit of parody. And/or protest, as with these calls for the “banned words” anthologies. It should be a challenge. So let it fly.

On another matter, an article in The Atlantic vehemently declares that “’gift’ is not a verb” — in protest against the now-trendy use of “gifting” in place of “giving.” It’s an example of what’s called “word aversion,” which is described as “a feeling of intense, irrational distaste for the sound or sight of a particular word or phrase, not because its use is regarded as etymologically or logically or grammatically wrong, nor because it’s felt to be over-used or redundant or trendy or non-standard, but simply because the word itself somehow feels unpleasant or even disgusting.”

It’s argued however that “‘gifting’ falls into another category of word aversion: It is hateful because it’s commercializing. It takes one of the purest expressions of generosity humans have — the gift — and turns it into something transactional.”

Similar inappropriate use has recently been highlighted locally with a couple of episodes suggesting “poor taste.”

UST-Manila’s College of Science issued a poster announcing a Christmas party, with the words “Extra Joyful Krismas” — the first letters of which were decried as a tasteless “joke about the massacre of the poor (‘EJK’ or ‘extrajudicial killings).”

Another unfortunate visual turned viral when a large tarp approved by the Provincial Government of Laguna and the Provincial Gender and Development Focal Point System announced in big bold letters: “Gift Giving Cum Feeding.”

It wasn’t exactly the spirit of the season that brought smiles to everyone who realized that in this case, an ampersand would have done better than a word.

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