Words of the Year 2021

Somewhere, sometime I read that pandemics release creative energy. After two years of Covid-19, I am not sure. However, it sounds good. One form of creativity is inventing new words, or using old words to denote new things. Recently, it has been claimed that there has been an explosion in new word invention and usage.

The words listed here relate to my personal (re)discovery of them. Other people may have completely different perceptions of what is a new word, or a new usage of an old word.

January – Yoke

2021 Tesla model S Plaid, with its yoke. (Photo: Tesla)

In Tesla news, for only $140 000 (Lets just call it NOK 1 500 000) one can get an updated version of Tesla Model S (as in S3XY) Plaid. The basic design of the Model S has been unchanged since 2012, although it has been updated before. Most of the discussion about this current update has been about the steering wheel, although not everyone wants to use that term. Tesla uses the term yoke. There are no stalks, either, meaning the turn signals, lights and other typical features are now controlled by touch buttons on the yoke.

February – Side-hustle

Yes, it is normally written as a phrase, but I’ve added a hyphen to transform side-hustle into a word. Elaine Pofeldt, writing in CNBC, has provided The ultimate side hustle guide for 2021. Citing a State of Independence report from BMO Partners, she claims that, “56% of Americans said they’d be more secure working for themselves than in a traditional job in 2020, up from 32% in 2011.”

A side hustle or side job or side gig is a job that a person takes in addition to their primary job in order to supplement their income. In my youth this was often referred to as moonlighting. This contrasts with a person’s day job. Some dictionaries give a much more sinister definition of moonlighting going back to 19th-century Ireland, where people murdered or maimed cattle, during the night, to protest against the oppressive land-tenure system.

March – Fungible

Mike Winkelmann (1981 – ) is responsible for bringing everyone’s attention to fungible vs non-fungible tokens, often just abbreviated without explanation as NFT. If it were not for his alter-ego, Beeple, and the sale of Everydays: the First 5000 Days, a collage of images that sold for $69.34 million on 2021-03-11, no-one would have heard these terms. A non-fungible cryptographic token represents something unique. In this case, it is 5 000 digital images, making it the third most expensive artwork by a living artist. This contrasts with fungible tokens, used with cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, that are mutually interchangeable.

April – Voltswagen

It may have started off as a bad April Fool’s Joke, but Voltswagen is an impressive name. If Volkswagen hasn’t secured it, then I would consider it for a future project, ahead of the more Italian-English VoltaVan, an Italian-Norwegian VoltaVogn, or an all Italian VoltaVagona.

May – Adulting

Some claim that Kelly Williams Brown (1984 – ) invented the present participle, adulting, in 2015. It is a neologism that refers to behaving in an adult manner, or making someone behave like an adult, or even transforming someone into an adult. Unfortunately, for Brown, @unholytwerp tweeted the following on 2008-10-02: Grew up in a town of 2k and adulted 10 years NYC. Same values: Keeping the job. Feeding the family. Educating the kids. Buying the stuff. This abecedarian = word collector, only discovered it 2021-05-06.

June – Fast Food

This phrase refers to food that is permitted to be eaten by a person who is observing a religious fast. While I have on occasion used this term while observing a fast, in the years before I turned 70, it now appears to be part of the Oxford English Dictionary.

It has nothing to do with burgers or other sorts of food from an A & W root beer stand, or its later iterations, derived from the one that Roy W. Allen opened 102 years ago, on 1919-06-20, in Lodi, California.

July – Locovore

Other people may have come across this word in 2005, but for some people, such as myself, it is new. It refers to a person who eats foods grown locally whenever possible. At locovore.co, it seems possible to buy quail eggs from Quail Haven Urban Farm in Fort Worth, Texas. That would make a change from walking up the road to a neighbouring farm to buy chicken eggs. It appears possible to buy local foods from all over the world!

August – Flexcation

A holiday during which parents spend some of the time working from home and children are homeschooled, allowing the family to go away for a longer period than usual and at a time of year when they would not normally be able to go on holiday.

With the pandemic continuing, flexcations to distant parts of the world are not always permitted. Indeed, for the residents of Cliff Cottage, the travelogue, typically a video in segments lasting up to an hour, has become a substitute, but without excessive heat, humidity or hoards of mosquitoes. See this article about travelogues.

September – Petroholic Rehab

I am only 11 years and 2 weeks late in discovering Petroholic Rehab. It was used at the Oil Fair held in Stavanger, Norway. Marius Holm, deputy chairman of the Norwegian environmental organization, Bellona, presented this program to wean petroholics, on 2010-08-21.

For over [5]0 years, [corrected from the original 40 years] Norway has chosen to make themselves dependent on oil. Little Norway accounts for almost three percent of the world’s CO2 emissions, through its oil and gas exports. Norway’s dependence on oil money not only provides large CO2 emissions, but also destroys a greater restructuring for more renewable energy and energy efficiency. Norwegian politicians should realize that they must reduce the oil business, shield vulnerable areas along the coast, and cut oil industry subsidies. They should, but they don’t.

There has to be a transition to renewables. There are 12 steps to weaning:

  1. We admit that we have a problem, that. we have let ourselves become addicted to petroleum.
  2. We admit that our constant petroleum abuse has led to a heavy hangover.
  3. We admit that our petroholism has negative consequences for our loved ones and for the surroundings. Consequences such as poverty, destruction and despair.
  4. We admit that our successful, oil-based economy cannot last, and understand that we must invest both labour and capital in renewable energy sources such as algae, biomass, sun, wind, geothermal energy, tidal power and wave power.
  5. We admit that the idea of ​​a life without petroleum scares us. Nevertheless, we realize that there is no future in a petroleum-based life.
  6. We realize that our future has to be green.
  7. We admit that we have wasted large amounts of valuable energy. By using energy more effectively, we reduce the burden on the environment, the economy, and the resource base.
  8. We choose to protect the Lofoten and the Arctic areas and to manage the fisheries in a sustainable manner.
  9. We commit ourselves to green solutions such as electric cars.
  10. We choose to fly through the landscape of wind-powered high-speed trains instead of taking planes. [This may have to be modified to take electric aircraft into consideration]
  11. We realize that CO2 capture and storage are required for the remaining fossil emissions and also for the future production of carbon negative energy.
  12. When we finally woke up, we commit ourselves to bringing this message to other petroholics, and to deal with these principles in everything we do.

October – Nanolearning

Learning that involves reading/ hearing/ watching very small pieces of information. Typically provided on the internet. It takes a minute, perhaps two, sometimes less. The key is to deliver content engagingly. It solves minute, but specific problems, using few a minimal of sentences/ soundbites/ video sequences.

November – Tshinanu

With COP26 being held in Glasgow, living-language-land offers a platform to minority and endangered language-holders to share a word and story that reflects a relationship to land and nature. They have shared 26 words to give a global audience fresh inspiration for tackling our environmental crisis. Their website explains each of these words in depth.

The Innus communities are marked with 9 on the map, provided by https://www.quebecautochtone.net/en/

Of these, I have chosen Tshinanu from Nehluen, the common language used throughout the Innu communities in Quebec. According to the website, the Innu alphabet has 11 consonants and 7 vowels. It is complex, but pictorial. Words animate a thought, linking a precise action with the environment. There is one vocabulary for village life, and another for the bush. These nuances are linked with the corresponding environment, which itself is indissociable from thought, and therefore the verbal expression. The vocabulary changes with the landscape from south to north, as well as from east to west. Words enable people to understand the relationships between flora, fauna and people, who must adapt to the environment. Tshinanu – the inclusive form of we – invites sharing, community life, as there are no fences in the word tshinanu. It is a collective ‘we’, an open hand extended to others, inviting them to be a part of the circle. It also correspondingly tells a story, the story of the community of life of the person who speaks or writes. This word brings into relation the land, the animals, the plants and the peoples in the same pronoun.

December – Jazz hands

Many organizations have replaced applause with jazz hands, in an attempt to make events more accessible for people with disabilities. Unfortunately, the term might also be confused with a dance performance where the performer’s hands position the palms toward the audience with fingers splayed. This position is also referred to as webbing. It is commonly associated with especially exuberant types of performance such as musicals and cheerleading.

As an applause substitute for clapping, both arms are outstretched upwards, with fingers wiggling. This is sometimes referred to as spirit fingers or jazz fingers. Loud noises, including clapping, and especially whistling and other noises expressing appreciation, can create issues for people with anxiety, autism, deafness or other sensory issues.

Sign languages are languages with their own grammar, syntax and idioms. For many, they are languages of necessity and of access. The wave applause used at many sporting events, is another example of sign language making a positive contribution to a wider group of users.

Word of the Year – Parkour

Parkour is a training/ exercise discipline where traceurs move from one place to another in a complex environment, without assistive equipment and in the fastest and most efficient way possible. This includes the best of climbing, crawling, jumping, martial arts, obstacle courses, rolling, running, swinging and vaulting. These terms should be understandable for most readers. Yet, the tenth term, plyometrics, may require people to use Wikipedia (or other sources) to discover yet another new word.

Practicing parkour in Freeway Park, Seattle, Washington. A beginner takes a leap. Photo: Joe Mabel, 2012-03-02

Parkour is usually an urban activity that can be practiced alone or with others. Traceurs see their environment as a challenge, to be navigated by “movement around, across, through, over and under its features.” David Belle (1973-04-29 – ), a French actor, film choreographer and stunt coordinator, is credited with starting it in France in 1988, based on the training/ teaching of his father Raymond Belle ( 1939-10-03 – 1999-12-01).

As is often the case, parkour had a predecessor, méthode naturelle, developed by Georges Hébert, (1875-04-27 – 1957-08-02) who promoted athletic skill based on the models of indigenous tribes he had met in Africa. He noted: “their bodies were splendid, flexible, nimble, skillful, enduring and resistant but yet they had no other tutor in gymnastics but their lives in nature.” His natural method involved ten fundamental activities: walking, running, jumping, quadrupedal movement, climbing, balancing, throwing, lifting, self-defence and swimming, that helped develop three main forces: energetic (willpower, courage, coolness, and firmness), moral (benevolence, assistance, honour, and honesty), and physical (muscles and breath).

My first appreciation of parkour came in the Luc Besson (1959-03-19 – ) film Taxi 2 (1998). However, I was unaware of it by that name.

Discouraged words

Yes, this writer may be inconsistent, even sloppy, in word usage, but in general he finds the following words annoying enough to discourage their use, in theory if not in practice.

Artist as in a vocalist or other musician who is performing live or in a recording. Please use either musician or, preferably, a more specific terms (such as guitarist, vocalist) to describe them. In the same way, one should use specific terms in other arts to describe practitioners. A person can be engaged as a painter, a print maker, a sculptor, a writer or even a poet, plus many others. If all else fails, then use performer, explaining why a more precise word is unavailable.

Expat as in an emigrant from/ immigrant to somewhere else. The correct term for an ex patriot is emigrant/ immigrant. I am one myself. I am not an expat.

The Importance of Words

This year’s Human Rights Day was celebrated on 2021-12-10, the day before the publication of this weblog post. It is celebrated annually on this date and honours the United Nations General Assembly’s adoption and proclamation, on 1948-12-10, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the first global enunciation of human rights and one of the first important achievements of the new United Nations.

On this same day, journalists Maria Ressa (1963-10-02 – ) and Dmitry Muratov (1961-10-30 – ) received the Nobel peace prize. Ressa was almost blocked from attending because of travel restrictions related to legal cases filed against her in the Philippines. She is the CEO and co-founder of Rappler, an online news platform noted for exposing power abuses/ authoritarianism under Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte (1945-03-28 – ).

Muratov is editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, a prominent defenders of free speech in Russia, or in the words of Berit Reiss-Andersen (1954-07-11 – ), chair of the Norwegian Nobel committee; “Novaya Gazeta is the most independent newspaper in Russia today, with a fundamentally critical attitude towards power.” The above link is to the Russian edition. The English version, appears to be through Facebook, a company and website that I am avoiding. Information about it appears in Wikipedia.

Reiss-Andersen also said that Ressa and Muratov were “participants in a war where the written word is their weapon, where truth is their goal and every exposure of misuse of power is a victory”.

Meanwhile, in Britain, on the same day, the High Court overturned a judgment from earlier in 2021 that prevented Julian Assange (1971-07-03 – ) from being extradited to the US, to face charges related to WikiLeaks’ publication of hundreds of thousands of documents, including diplomatic cables, about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, in 2010 and 2011. This new ruling was condemned by advocates of press freedom.

Norwegian Culture in 16 words

Trøndelag patriots claim Trøndelag is a miniturized version of Norway. Nature and technology, with lots of space. Here, Trondheim’s Fjord, the Fosen Peninsula and Skarnsund Bridge as seen from Inderøy, in January.

Welcome to a Norwenglish lesson, designed to help you learn a few Norwegian words, and some aspects of the Norwegian culture.

Identity

  1. Personnummer (identification number) This 11 digit number is the equivalent of an American Social Security number or Canadian SIN. It provides the owner’s date of birth in clear text in the first six digits, but cannot distinguish the century. It also codes for binary gender in the ninth digit – odd numbers for males, even numbers for females. Not particular appropriate in a society where people face age and sex discrimination.
  2. Folkeregister (population register) This is a database that tells where every resident lives. One of the newer iterations of this was to encode street addresses, so that emergency services could find their way to every building in the country. From the start of a street, odd numbers are on the right hand side, even numbers on the left. Our house number, 82, indicates that our driveway starts somewhere between 820 and 840 meters from the start of the road, on the left hand side.

Possessions

  1. Hus (house) also referred to as an enebolig (single family dwelling) is the standard occupancy unit for families. Apartments are far less common than in Sweden, for example.
  2. Hybel (dorm room) takes what would be storage space in a house and transforms it into rental accommodation, typically for students. In addition to providing a place to live, it also gives the house owner a number of tax advantages.
  3. Garasje (garage) is a building used to store anything and everything, with the exception of a car. Building a garage is a side effect of renting out dorms.
  4. Bil (car) is a public display of outdoorsmanship, rather than wealth. While Norwegians are increasingly becoming more European, and buying more SUVs, they have for many decades prioritized station wagons, where other nationalities would choose sedans, or at least hatchbacks. In an idealized world, a car is used to transport people to the mountains or the seashore – for recreational purposes. Unfortunately, in the real world, it is most often used to commute. The word bil itself shows how many Norwegian words are created. In this case take automobil, discard the front, and use the tail of the word. In contrast, Germans use the front, Auto.
  5. Tilhenger (trailer) has two related meanings. Literally, it means follower, sometimes translated as believer. However, it also refers to a poor person’s pickup truck. Most cars are equipped with a krok (literally hook but implying hitch or tow bar). These are used for trips to the local recycling center as well as visits to Ikea. One would never dream of buying a car, without knowing the mass of trailer it is allowed to pull. Ordinary mortals are allowed to pull 700 kg, but with a special license higher weights are permitted. We have a trailer with a weight limit of 2 000 kg, but our Mazda 5 is only allowed to pull 1 200 kg. The trailer weights almost 400 kg, so we can take 800 kg of junk to the dump at a time.
  6. Båt (boat) today usually refers to something made of fiberglass, powered by a 9.9 hp outboard motor. Fishing is the common excuse used by people to explain their presence on the water. People born in 1980 or later, need to have a boat operator certificate. Those born before are grandparented in.
  7. Naust (boathouse) comes from an age before boat trailers became common. It is a building at the edge of the shore used to house boats, fishing equipment and all things nautical. Nausts don’t like to be alone, so there are often several of them in a line. Like a garage it has an alternative use as a bar and dance floor used specifically on Sakthans (Saint John’s Eve). Celebrations start at sunset on 23 June. This closely coincides with the Midsummer solstice. In addition, the celebration features burning of pyres, the higher the fire, the better.
  8. Ski (skis) are wooden sticks used to propell a person across the countryside during the winter. Purists will only reluctantly admit alpine (or downhill) skiing, favouring a Nordic (or cross-country) variety, or ski jumping or the biathon which combines cross-country skiing with rifle shooting. Many of the best competition skiers come from Trøndelag, including Inderøy.
  9. Hytte (cabin) is home away from home. If this is to be used at Easter (or during the winter) it should be located in a mountainous area. If it is to be used during the summer, it should be located by the sea. Increasingly, people are finding it more convenient to rent an apartment in the mountains for a week, or to buy a boat with live-aboard accommodation. Since we live in a hyttefelt (cabin community) we feel no need for an extra cabin.
  10. Julebord (Christmas party) is one of those obligatory events featuring excessive amounts of traditional Christmas foods, that vary according to the region, and – optionally – excessive amounts of almost anything else. Foreigners are never quite sure if jul (pronounced yule) is a Christian or a pagan celebration, for it seems to accommodate liberal amounts of both.

Obsolescence

  1. Postkontor (post offices) have closed down, but reopened as post-i-butikk (post-in-the-shop), moving to a large grocery store in each area previously served by a post office. Hours have expanded to match that of the shops, which for us means from 7:00 to 22:00 (10 pm) Monday to Friday ; 9:00 to 21:00 (9 pm) on Saturday; closed on Sunday. This is where we come to pick up most on-line purchases, although if we were willing to pay more, some can be delivered to the door. Yes, we still have mail delivery, but this has been reduced to five days a week.
  2. Bank (bank) size and services are being reduced. First, the bank bok (bank book) was eliminated. Kontanter (cash) is seldom required any more. Bankkort (debit and credit cards) are used in stores and for on-line purchases. While there was a period when a minibank (ATM/ cash machine) was to be found outside any bank, these have been reduced in number. Most food stores offer cash back when making purchases, since each and every bank card has approved picture ID on its reverse. Sjekk (cheque/ check) was a payment system that was in use when we first moved to Norway. The last check we wrote in Norway was in 1992. We have two 10 kroner mynt (coins) in the car to use at stores that require a coin to be inserted in order to use a handelvogn (shopping buggy). We only shop at one store now, that has this prehistoric condition. In addition, there is Vipps which is cell-phone based payment system.
  3. Fasttelefon (landline) is dying fast. When we first moved to Norway in 1980 there was a ten year waiting list to receive one. When we moved to Bodø in 1985, we were able to get one installed in two weeks. The number of landlines reached a peak of about 2 million in 2001. Since then numbers have deteriorated to 200 000. Last month the telephone company announced that they would no longer repair service to the remaining phones, and said the last ones would be eliminated in 2023. This anouncement was met with outrage. We have not had a landline since the beginning of 2019.
  4. Fjernsyn (television, literally distant vision) is doomed. Nobody under the age of 40, some would say 50, watches programs according to a television schedule. That is performed as a matter of public service to the elderly. Most of the population stream programs at their convenience. The exception, of course, is sports.

Keywords

V1: 2018-12-31; V2: 2019-03-25

Keywords previously found on this site, including the original text below, have been moved to: https://keywords.mclellan.no There, a new keyword will be posted on Sundays.

The meaning of words changes. This does not present any significant problems if everyone in a culture adapts simultaneously to these changes, and it reflects agreed upon changes in that culture. Unfortunately, this scenario never happens. Rather, elites, usurp particular words, and impose their definitions on others, notably the marginalized, but everyone else as well.

Raymond Williams (1921 – 1988) examined the changing meanings of sixty words used in cultural discussions, beginning with the word culture itself. He intended this to appear as an appendix to Culture and Society (1958). That didn’t happen, but an extended 110 word version, including notes and essays was published as Keywords in 1976. By 1983 a new version added 21 additional words.

Keywords is not an abridged Oxford English Dictionary. It doesn’t include philological or etymological considerations. Instead, its focus is on meanings and contexts.

Culture, published in 1981, continued this work, but focused on this single concept, defined as a realized signifying system” (p. 207). The work is especially concerned with cultural production, and reproduction (p. 206). What is a realized signifying system?

Chris Barker, Making Sense of Cultural Studies (2002), writes: “…a banknote signifies and constructs nationality while at the same time being used for purposes of exchange” (p. 34). Barker has difficulties understanding what an unrealized signifying system could be. Perhaps I can help him. It is best understood using a time machine. Lots of words have the potential to signify something, but do not yet do so. While the Han Dynasty introduced promissory notes in 118 BC, the first attempt to issue banknotes in Europe, occurred in Sweden in 1661. Before these dates, promissory notes and banknotes were unrealized signifying systems. In fact, for most of the world they were only realized much later.

Cultural materialism can best be described as a theoretical movement. Cultural materialists analyze how powerful elites use (historically) important texts to validate or inscribe certain values on the cultural imaginary, that is, that set of values, institutions, laws, and symbols common to a particular social group.

Political Shakespeare, edited by Jonathan Dollimore (1948 – ) and Alan Sinfield (1941 – 2017), is a seminal text of the cultural materialism movement, with four defining characteristics: Historical context, close textual analysis, political commitment and theoretical method. Most of us in the English-speaking world, have been required to read Shakespeare as part of our education and, in doing so, have adopted at least part of Shakespeare’s world view.

Neema Parvini (? – ) writes in Shakespeare and Contemporary Theory (2012) “… culture is irreducibly complex and made up at any given time by numerous cultures which are dynamically linked to each other. At any given time, there is not just one ‘culture’ but lots of different cultures with their own geneses in different epochal moments. Williams gives the examples of ‘feudal culture’, ‘bourgeois culture’ and ‘socialist culture’ which are all part of a cultural process. Culture is not static but processional and its different subcultures are in competition for hegemony. The status of a single subculture is liable to change over time. Williams identifies three different statuses: ‘residual’, ‘emergent’ and ‘dominant’. These are fairly self-explanatory. To use his examples: bourgeois culture is ‘dominant’ because it has hegemony; socialist culture is ‘emergent’, because it is still being created and perhaps may one day become dominant; and feudal culture is ‘residual’ because it is the remnant of a by-gone era, essentially an anachronism, but crucially it is still ‘active in the cultural process . . . as an effective element of the present’.” With reference to Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature (1977) pp. 121 -2.

Fintan O’Toole (1958 – ), author and Irish Times journalist, notes, “Best thing that happened to me when I was young was that my father told me that everyone had read the complete works of Shakespeare by the time they were 14. It was life-transforming for me.” https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/dec/29/fintan-otoole-the-books-interview-brexit-english-nationalism

Unfortunately, I have never found Shakespeare life-transforming. Yes, there are days when even I can appreciate Shakespeare, although not usually at the theatre or even in book form. Much of my understanding comes from Coles Notes/ CliffsNotes, and the odd Classic Comic Book. My preferences are for: Scotland, PA, directed and written by William (Billy) Morrissette (1962 – ), a reworked MacBeth dark comedy made in 2001 in Nova Scotia, but set in 1975 at “Duncan’s Cafe”, a fast-food eatery in Scotland, Pennsylvania; and, Julie Taymore’s (1952 – ) 1999 Italian-American-British film interpretation of Titus Andronicus.

Not all commentators of Shakespeare are Marxist. The right-leaning, Foundation for Constitutional Government, Inc. notes his political importance in these terms, “… Shakespeare seems to have understood the concept of the regime (Greek: politeia) as developed by Plato and Aristotle—the idea that different forms of political organization encourage different forms of human development. Not every human possibility is equally available under every regime; it is difficult to be a Christian saint in pagan Rome (and as Hamlet shows, it is equally difficult to be a classical hero in Christian Europe). A monarchy will inevitably discourage certain forms of political activity (particularly those that challenge monarchy), while a republic may cause the very same activities to flourish. Shakespeare is generally praised for the immense variety of human types he portrays in his plays. Perhaps one of the keys to this success is the variety of regimes Shakespeare covers in his plays—from ancient pagan republics to modern Christian monarchies.” https://thegreatthinkers.org/shakespeare-and-politics/introduction/

Words continue to be important in political discussions. A Raymond Williams Society was established in 1989 to promote related work. Since 1998 it has published Key Words: A Journal of Cultural Materialism. Tony Bennett, Lawrence Grossberg and Meaghan Morris have edited, New Keywords: A Revised Vocabulary of Culture and Society. In addition, New York University Press has published several related books.

Keywords forAuthor(s)/ Editor(s)
American Cultural Studies (2014)Bruce Burgett, Glenn Hendlerr
Asian American Studies (2015)Cathy J. Schlund-Vials, Linda Trinh Võ, K. Scott Wong
Disability Studies (2015)Rachael Adams, Benjamin Reiss, David Serlin
Children’s Literature (2015)Philip Nel, Lissa Paul
Environmental Studies (2016)Joni Adamson, William A. Gleason, David N. Pellow
Media Studies (2017)Jonathan Gray, Laurie Ouellette
Latina/o Studies (2017)Lawrence La Fountain-Stokes, Nancy Raquel Mirabal, Deborah R. Vargas
African American Studies (2018)Erica R. Edwards, Roderick A. Ferguson, Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar

Most recently, in 2018, John Patrick Leary, in Keywords: The New Language of Capitalism, wrote: A keyword, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (hereafer the OED), is “a word serving as a key to a cipher or the like.” In his 1976 classic Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, the Welsh literary critic Raymond Williams laid out the foundational vocabulary of modern British society in a wide-ranging project of critical historical semantics. He defined keywords as “binding words in certain activities and their interpretation,” elements of a living vocabulary that shape and reflect a society in movement. Keywords show what knowledge ties this society together, and how this common knowledge changes over time. As both Williams and the OED make clear, keywords are therefore “key” in a double sense: they are important, and they unlock something hidden.

Where should we be using keywords?

On Monday 2018-11-26, GM CEO Mary Barra announced cuts, explaining them as: “The actions we are taking today continue our transformation to be highly agile, resilient, and profitable, while giving us the flexibility to invest in the future, …” This transformation involves the discontinuance of six models, closure of five factories, and the lay-off of up to 14 000 workers in North America. This figure includes 3 300 blue-collar workers in USA, and 2 600 in Canada, in addition to 8 000 white-collar workers.

John Patrick Leary responded to this by tweeting, “Language was pronounced dead at the scene.” Resilient and flexible are two of Leary’s 47 keyword topics.

I have just started reading Leary’s Keywords. They are being read as published, in alphabetical order, except where a topic is too tempting to resist. DIY (Do-It-Yourself), is one such seductress. It begins with, “In a 2014 column in the New York Times, architecture critic Jayne Merkel argued that the underfunded New York City Housing Authority could address its vast backlog of unfinished repairs by training residents to make their own repairs.” and ends with “DIY’s present mixture of autonomous self-determination with entrepreneurial self-reliance is what makes propositions like Merkel’s so insidious. Rent-paying tenants of public housing have every right to expect their landlord to “do it” for them; in this case, the enthusiastic voluntarism of “do it yourself” has become more like an indifferent invitation to “do it your damn self.” Is the prospect of student debt preventing you from pursuing higher education? Find a cheaper alternative with “DIY education” in the form of free online classes and Project Gutenberg. Can’t afford a home mortgage? Buy some land and build yourself a tiny house. DIY celebrates individualistic substitutes for state obligations or political solutions, like free public education or affordable housing. In this way, DIY can become, like the more politicized versions of artisanal and maker culture, a practice of consumption masquerading as a practice of citizenship.”

The importance of keywords, by whatever author that attracts a person, is that it encourages everyone to examine how words are being used to manipulate thought processes. We have a duty to ourselves to be critical of everything that we are fed, intellectually, emotionally as well as physically. Some products are nutritious, but increasingly many are simply empty calories.

Volunteering and other 2nd class words

In a comment to another post, I mentioned that I would be working up to one day a week at Hastighet, a technology workshop. The type of work that I would be doing would be very similar to that which I have done throughout my life – teaching.

The difficulty with using the term work is that there are assumptions baked into it. Work is paid work. Except, it isn’t always. Let’s take a real world example. In homes throughout the world, people work to clean bathrooms, to prepare and serve meals, to read stories to children. It is probably safe to say that most people do not employ hired staff to have these tasks performed.

If one moves outside the family/household, other adjectives come into play. Volunteer work implies that the work is unpaid. An even more poignant example is to to talk about an unpaid internship. It seems clear that an intern (like the volunteer) is inferior in some way, because they are working without pay, and people are forced to label themselves with these job titles.

I don’t want distinctions made between unpaid work, and other forms of work, where people are paid. Work is work. Similarly, I don’t want to see people labeled in terms of their income status. I find it offensive when nametags prominently display, Volunteer.

Job titles should indicate a persons level and area of competence. Senior street cleaner, junior brain surgeon and deputy assistant manager have both of these characteristics, which is fine. Sometimes, it may also be appropriate to indicate that the person is undergoing training, as in apprentice cabinet maker or management trainee.

What should be done about volunteerism?

One solution is to ensure that all work is paid, although I am unsure who is going to pay me for washing the dishes, shoveling the snow or writing a blog post.

An alternative solution is to ensure that no work is paid, that everyone receives a basic income. The challenge with this approach is that while there may be a lot of people wanting to work as CEOs, there could be less people choosing to work as pipe fitters at the local sewage works.

Perhaps the most appropriate approach world be to pay people according to the inverse popularity of the job. So while CEOs work for minimum wage, pipe fitters at the local sewage works receive supplemental income payments.

What is clear at the moment is that taking an unpaid internship is unhealthy. If nothing else, it damages long-term income prospects. An unpaid intern is identified as a loser, and will be treated as such. https://www.theguardian.com/money/2017/jul/29/unpaid-intern-damage-graduate-career-pay