Vocab lessons

LOOKING ASKANCE - Joseph Gonzales (The Freeman) - January 19, 2020 - 12:00am

Collins Dictionary has bestowed “climate strike” with the distinction of being the word of the year (although those are actually two words). The phrase is meant to denote that situation where people don’t go to class or to work in order to join strikes that demand action to address climate change.

Webster, on the other hand, picked “they” as the word of the year. Not because they is new, but because it’s being used to denote some other meaning - the pronoun used for people who don’t identify as male or female. Yep, when someone doesn’t want to be called man or woman, a.k.a. Sam Smith, be prepared to not refer to him or her as “he” or “she.”

Instead, use “they”. That’s safer and more inclusive, and respectful of non-binary people. Plus, it’s cooler, because hey, you’ve just employed the word of the year. If you’re part of the Webster camp, that is.

Speaking of “non-binary,” that word was a new entry over at the Collins Dictionary camp, but didn’t quite make it against “climate strike.” The environment seems to have been weighing heavily in dear Collins’ mind, since last year, its word of the year was “single use.” Nope, not referring to the dates we meet on apps, but to plastic.

The alarm raised by climate advocates (shall we say “climate strikers”) against the proliferation of single-use plastics landed that term top spot in word of the year 2018. Humanity could have picked “one-time” or “disposable” to refer to that kind of plastic, but since the community sort of settled around “single use,” it’s part of the lexicon.

Time Magazine notes that online searches for “quid pro quo” has gone up quite a bit, generated by the Trump impeachment. People probably needed to be assured that that esoteric term meant something important, and that they knew what it meant. Trump probably was a searcher himself, and now he definitely knows what it means.

Over at the Philippines, a friend was remarking not on new words, but the seeming death of beloved ones. He suddenly realized that his niblings, all of them, didn’t understand what “dyahe” was, even though that word was so prevalent among his generation (okay, our generation).

I have the same fear for a slew of slang that we comfortably grew up with. To suddenly realize that we won’t be understood if we use those slang words amongst Gen Z is horrifying (I shouldn’t go into examples, as I will then date myself).

I can’t use “iho” (hijo) to address staff without appearing too autocratic or ancient. Apparently, the correct term is “kuya” or older brother (and I have already waxed unpoetically against that familiar term in a previous column, and I won’t repeat myself).

Some friends prefer to use “sir” to address service staff, although then we land in that funny situation where both the customer in the restaurant and the waiter serving the customer respectfully address each other as “sir” (not that there’s anything wrong with mutual respect - it’s just unusual).

What’s going to be the new term for 2020? My new January word was “phreatic” after Taal Volcano blew up. Depending on how extensive the damage is going to be, with the still ill-at-ease volcano, that word might remain in our consciousness for a little while longer.

On that note, I predict that “lava walk” is no longer going to be PC to use, what with the volcanic tragedy and all. Try using it, and then you may execute a “slo-mo” twirl on the way out.


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