4 Words We Love to Use That Have Lost All Meaning
As a child, you probably at some point read the story The Mitten. It's about a mouse (or a mole, depending on the version), who makes a home out of a lost mitten in the woods. Then, because the mitten looks so inviting to all the other animals of the forest, and because the mouse is a coward who doesn't know how to say no, every other species tries to cram in, as well. Finally, the mitten becomes so stuffed with wildlife that it splits at the seams and shreds into a bunch of unusable pieces. The moral, of course, is don't help the homeless, but The Mitten also makes a nice analogy for the way we sometimes ruin language, as well.
Surely we can cram in one more metaphor. It's such a big mitten, after all.
As words pass in and out of popular vernacular, we'll occasionally land on one in particular that we collectively love so much that we'll try to ascribe more meaning to it than the word can hold. We'll overuse it, misuse it, bastardize it, shoehorn it into conversations and generally exhaust it until what's left is no longer even a word but only a sound our faces make, abused to the point of worthlessness. When that happens, the most humane thing to do is put an end to the misery and just kill it. What follows are four of those popular words that lost all meaning after we accidentally loved them a little too hard. I'd like to request that we drag them out this one last time, fill up the tub and hold them underwater until they stop moving. Or just quit using them, either one is fine, really.
Like the common cold virus, the meaning of "hipster" has always been in a perpetual state of mutation, which makes it tricky to pin down. The word "hipster" existed long before the 2000s but really gained traction in the last 13 years. The more modern use of the word originated as a way to describe a group of self-entitled, middle-class urban kids rallied behind a Neverland approach to fashion, strong liberal opinions so long as they're convenient and a fundamental misunderstanding of irony. But we were careless with the word. We had so much fun yelling it at people with coonskin caps, waxed mustaches, or one-man bands that only play dictator speeches through a hollowed pumpkin that gradually hipster started to swallow more and more subcultures until it finally became an all-encompassing shorthand for anything or anyone deserving of hatred.
Horses aren't blonde. Nice French hat, hipster.
Today, no one is a self-proclaimed hipster but everyone has been accused at least once of being one, which is a pretty good indicator that no one knows what the hell it means. Go ahead and try typing "hipster" into a Twitter search and see how generously the word has been slathered over everything in the last 24 hours. When everything can be denounced as "hipster," then the insult loses all its bite and the word is useless. So let's kill it. Let's ease it into a bathtub of warm cheap beer, slit its wrists with '80s snap bracelets and drop in an electric record player warbling out an Animal Collective song on limited-edition vinyl. It's high time we get back to work finding more articulate ways to attack each other. Oh, speaking of attacks ...
Anonymity has afforded us all many luxuries online: We can self-diagnose embarrassing medical conditions, stare at human genitals as long as we like and, above all, we can burn the beliefs and convictions of other people to the ground with no consequences. "Trolling" started as the bold, philanthropic effort of a few miserable people to share that misery with the rest of the Internet, using one hand to type and the other to firmly grip their own genitals in a climax of pure, wet sadness.
Drink it in. Not literally, of course, that would be terrible for you.
It was all achieved by inciting outrage and fury in comment sections around the Internet, usually through deliberate racism, sexism, and ignorance. But gradually, the definition of "troll" broadened to include all the people who were genuinely racist, sexist, and ignorant, too, because no one could tell the difference; even the trolls had vastly overestimated the moral fiber of human beings with Internet access. Finally, once all the bigots adopted the word, as well, "troll" just meant anyone who didn't agree with you, which, if you spend any time in the comment sections, including the one below, is pretty much everyone. On just about any YouTube video, you can watch at least one heated argument devolve into a collaboration between enemies trying to land on a practical definition for "trolling."
Today, it includes any act that could potentially enrage someone else, online or off. The word has left the keyboard and leapt into the mouths of stupid people in their everyday lives. Trolls looking for heroes have confused "trolling" with satire, claiming Jonathan Swift and Stephen Colbert as some of their own. Even pranks and protests have fallen under the umbrella of "trolling" now. In the ultimate example of confusion, the following video shows trolls creating a sign that says "troll" in order to troll a religious zealot by labeling him a "troll."
Nobody knows which side they stand on anymore because no one actually knows what the word means. When it can be used to describe everyone everywhere doing something potentially disagreeable, it's time to euthanize it and start relying on more descriptive words.
Right around the time businesses realized that the condition of their Facebook page might have a significant impact on their sales, people in loose ties and Ryan Gosling haircuts (even the ladies) started popping up out of the woodwork announcing themselves as social media "gurus." The word is originally Sanskrit and only means "teacher," but in the last five years it's been re-appropriated by everyone who wants to convince the world they're an expert at something despite lacking any experience or tangible skill.
If that sounds harsh, go ahead and take a look at the Facebook page for Clorox. That was, without a doubt, created by someone who answers to the nonsense title of "Social Guru." If you look through the posts, you'll recognize the desperate, over-eager effort of a child new to Facebook trying to get someone, anyone to interact with them.
Someone was paid money to relentlessly hound people until they agreed that, yeah, bleach is fine. Worst of all, there was no discernible endgame; most companies still have no idea how social media equates exactly to sales, so they're just kind of guessing. Unfortunately, so is everyone who labels themselves a "guru." In fact, in just about any vocation where there isn't a quantifiable metric for ability yet, you will find "gurus." They show up to help with vague, exhausting-sounding problems like "Digital Strategy," "e-Commerce," and "Market Integration." We would never call the Chief of Police a "Justice Guru" or a pediatrician a "Baby Guts Guru" because those jobs have qualifications in place to ensure that the people are actually experts. The word "guru" only emerges in fields without any oversight, like holistic healing, spirituality, and Twitter, because ultimately it doesn't mean anything, it just sounds fancy. So it's time to kill it, even if this happens to be your job title and you have to burn all your business cards. Trust me on this, I'm a Semantic Immolation Guru.
Did you hear the good news? If you start eating raw kale exclusively, you will live to be 417. Yes, we said that about blueberries and salmon and soy and spinach before, but we were wrong then. It's kale all the way. Kale is made of superpowers!
Sadly, the word "superfood" is completely made up by marketers. Then we as consumers perpetuated it, saying the word over and over to one another like a mantra in between stained mouthfuls of pomegranate. But the truth is, we don't know shit about food. We catch bits of conversations about how milk contributes to cancer, or we see Facebook posts about how hormones in chicken are causing kids to go through puberty earlier, and we're suddenly terrified to eat anything. We want a definitively good food that is nothing but upside, and sales departments smelled our anxiety like blood in the water.
"Oh man, I thought the jig was up when I panicked and said 'yogurt,' but they ate that shit up."
They gave us "superfoods," with two or three new ones cropping up every few months, that are packed full of vitamins and nutrients and, presumably, some vigilante justice. It's understandable why everyone wanted to believe in them so badly, but there is no such thing as a "superfood." Certainly some are better for you than others, but the idea that one food can boost brain activity and cure heart disease and lower cholesterol is overly optimistic. There's nothing wrong with blueberries or kale, but they're also not saving lives, either. The chief dietician at St. George's Hospital in London said in an interview with The Guardian,
"The term 'superfoods' is at best meaningless and at worst harmful. There are so many wrong ideas about superfoods that I don't know where best to begin to dismantle the whole concept."
The harmful aspects she's referring to are the superfood zealots who OD on a particular micronutrient because they cram too much seaweed or Acai Berries down their throats thinking it will make them live forever. These people aren't necessarily idiots, either. They're just hopeful, and that's a vulnerable place to be. For that reason, "superfood" deserves the swiftest death. Unlike the other words on this list, its very existence is dangerous. It's a word we ought to cut immediately from our collective vocabulary... Or, and hear me out, we steal it back. We know the power of the word so we wield it ourselves, announcing all the stuff everyone loves already as superfoods. We can convince the world that Hawaiian pizza and peanut butter cookies are the ingredients of immortality. We'd be giving back to the world like shining, dietary Robin Hoods. We could all be happy again, our stomachs filled with righteousness, and also ham. Think it over.