Thursday, 10 February 2011

Words and Phrases that Make Me Feel Stupid

These days, there is always some new buzz word lurking in the shadows, waiting to make me feel ignorant and dumb. Although possibly it has been current for centuries, at least from my point of view it will be something that is unheard of one day and then, without warning, starts popping up everywhere - in newspapers, on the lips of commentators, in other people's blogs. What is especially curious is the fact that everyone else seems to understand it instantly, even though its meaning remains hidden from me. Is it replacing some more familiar piece of vocabulary, I wonder, or is it giving expression to something we have never been able to say before? I have absolutely no idea.

'Trope' and 'meme' are the latest words to affect me in this way. Out of nowhere, from the dark armpit of some hairy academic, they have risen up and seized the linguistic centre stage. Whenever I encounter them, I am left feeling baffled. It is an odd sensation, as if I am suddenly a foreigner, unable to make sense of  my own native tongue.

13 comments:

  1. "Meme" is recent, trope has been with us longer, but the popularity is new. The good news is that the people fondest of "meme" are techies and new-media types, i.e. the folks who maintain Wikipedia. It will make the meaning clear if not the reasons for its popularity.

    The other good news is that "emblematic" seems to have had its decade of service as a cool way to say "typical" or "an example".

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  2. Ii confess that I've never known what either 'meme' or 'trope' actually mean and have never bothered to find out. Something to do with co-opting theories of genetics to explain why everybody like Harry Potter books, yes?

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  3. Well George, Gadjo claims to be a bit of a techie and he doesn't know it - I will have to ask our mutual friend David K whether he does (I think he fits the definition techie doesn't he?) On the other hand, Gadjo, you probably don't realise that you are using some Romanian equivalent of 'meme' on a daily basis.

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  4. If David is not a techie, I don't know who is. "Meme" should be right up his alley, given that (according to Wikipedia) Richard Dawkins first popularized it. He will correct me if I am wrong, but I'd say that meme as I see it used most commonly approximates "pattern" or "idea".

    As for the popularity of the two words, I'm not sure that it means much more than the popularity of "North Face" gear among Americans aged 18 to 30 means. Fashions come and go with words as with clothes. I can't wait for "discourse" (in the now-popular academic sense) to follow leisure suits into obsolescence.

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  5. Yes, I think 'discourse' is being 'privileged' far too much.

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  6. There you go, Richard Dawkins, theories of genetics for canonicity phobics - told yer! I probably don't realise that I'm using the Romanian equivalent of many words common in the civilised world; I've been discovering recently that they probably derive from the elusive Old Albanian.

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  7. This bit went slightly over my head, Gadjo (I've never read any Dawkins, which may be the problem) - 'There you go, Richard Dawkins, theories of genetics for canonicity phobics - told yer!' Unfortunately, words I use in Hungarian often seem to derive from nowhere but inside my ageing brain.

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  8. I use both meme and trope regularly and have used trope for many years, as an alternative to Idée fixe. Meme is just a show-offy word for 'online trend'

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  9. I'm not even sure I can grasp the concept 'online trend', so it might be time for me to go and whimper in a corner.

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  10. I have also been flummoxed with these words. Glad I stumbled across this post for an explanation! I also had to look up "pundit." (Should I be ashamed?)

    I think this 'online trend' thing has much to do with what people are searching online and perhaps even more-so with Twitter. I decided only two days ago to, meekly, tenderly ease my way into those waters. I'm just sitting in the surf and watching the others play in the waves for now. I still have no idea what to do! hahaha

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  11. I haven't actually read any Dawkins either, zedders ;-) though I've had it read to me by my militant atheist father-in-law. Thanks go to worm for explaining those two words nice and consisely.

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  12. I may be a techie, but I just wrote a short explanation plus a story or two about Dawkins, memes, aliens and over zealous Christians and lost the whole thing when I pressed publish. Will try again later after I recover.

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  13. Never mind - I wouldn't have understood a word of it anyway. Has Polly arrived?

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