Monday, 18 January 2016

Words of 2015 or Oh to be Agile

Interesting how certain words get currency, become the go-tos for expressing our collective unconscious.  In my first blog on this I noted how I came to be intrigued by such words.  It began sometime in the 1980s, when the verb ‘resile’ burst onto our public discourse, with one politician after another refusing to ‘resile’ from one thing or another.  I was instantly mesmerised. 

It’s possible that ‘resile,  the long-disused sixteenth-century progenitor of ‘resilient’ and today's very popular ‘resilience’, was embraced as much as it was in the 80s because of the far-reaching economic reforms the Hawke-Keating government brought in – unpopular moves for which all their ministers needed the resolve the words 'not resiling from' suggest. 

So, to my words of 2015 - not in any significant order, but as they intruded on my consciousness:

A substitute for ‘souped-up’ but still deriving from culinary practice (although with 'souped-up' by way of motor mechanics).  Meaning given unnecessary power, exaggerating or overstating the argument; in other words, spoiling something by trying too hard.  From ‘over-egg the pudding'.  Why the over-egged usage last year?  Well, we need look no further perhaps than to our ex-PM’s exaggerated (!) response to terrorism.  All those grim military faces and line-ups of drooping flags.
Another food-derived word.  From silage, the storage of crops for fodder.  In keeping, as the above, with our contemporary obsession with food but here more aligned to the great grain towers dotting the American prairie, symbols of agrarian plenty and security in times of famine, but coming to describe groups isolated from each other, in which a lot of over-egging goes on – powered in large part by the growth of social media. The landscape of discourse is now littered with silos, one unfortunate effect of which has been the current political paralysis. 
According to my dictionary, scourge is unrelated to the simpler word ‘scour’ (meaning and derived from the Latin ‘to clean’) which it succeeds.  Nonetheless the two words will inevitably form an association in the word-obsessed reader’s mind.  For a scourge (from the Latin corrigea, a whip) can, in a sense, ‘cleanse', depending on who or what does the cleansing or, conversely, who or what is in danger of being scrubbed out.  Without minimising the seriousness of the Syrian crisis, or the suffering of those four million Syrians who have been displaced, I suggest that the ‘scourge’ of Daesh was a godsend to our ex-prime minister, who attempted to shore up his crumbling leadership by alerting us daily to the threat to us here in Australia. 
Out on the edge, without much influence on the centre.  We used to call such people ‘marginal’ but that seems to have lost cachet.  In any case, it seems as far as governments go that the paradigm has flipped, and most of us have been turned into outliers.
Maybe it’s owing to euphony, but I honestly can’t think of any other reason for substituting this word for ‘path’.  Yet pathways abound.
These used to be more commonly ‘signs’.   This recent designator conjures new, intriguing associations, bringing to mind, for example, the way male dogs mark their territory on trees.  Or those fat textas provided to brainstormers for use on their whiteboards.  How did this word come to supplant the earlier one?  The answer most likely is buried in apocrypha.  We humans are fickle creatures, forever susceptible to the enchantment of the new.
Signifying the way certain people, ideas, organisations, policies, events or, most especially, behaviours, are seen, or are to be seen.  This latest usage isn't in the dictionary, at least any one I have access to.  But I do know its meaning, as outlined above and in Flavorwire’s ‘Obama, Hillary Clinton, and the Optics of Politicians Crying’, when contributor Sarah Seltzer takes Republicans and Fox News to task for cynically implying that Obama’s tears when speaking of the Sandy Hook massacre were mere political theatre.
Oh, don’t we wish.  In the lingo of the day this is a synonym for ‘reform’, which itself today is a call for jacking up more benefits for employers and the rich.  ‘Flexibility’ is code for the same.
2015 was the year when ‘innovation’ was championed, but honoured only in the breach.  We wait to see whether the new prime minister who brought the word into prominence will do anything actually innovative this year.
Trust deficit 
All our major political parties suffer from this.  After years of being lied to, cynicism within the electorate is arguably at an all-time high.
Game changer  
The slowdown in the Chinese economy, while not exactly a crash, is certainly a game changer for us.  But is Turnbull the game changer we need to meet the challenge?  On the evidence to date, no.  We’ve been willing to believe that his retention of Abbott-era policies can be slated to his being hamstrung by the large right-wing rump within the government.  But this sorrowful case of wishful thinking can’t be sustained much longer,  unless Turnbull himself proves as Agile as he wants the rest of us to be.

If so, that will definitely be a word for 2016.


  1. I wish I got email notification of your posts. I guess this appeared in Facebook during my busy January and I missed it. Have been meaning to check your blog for some time to see if there are any new posts, Sara.

    I enjoy your "word" posts. I'm not sure that this qualifies, but I'm regularly cranky at the use of "hike" for "increase". Hike to the GST, tax hike etc. I expect better from journalists, particularly the ABC, but I suppose I'm just naive!

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