Journalists have always had a fondness for being clever. We were dweebs in school — disciples of the only creative path guaranteed not to impress girls at parties. While guys with good hair wowed girls with their guitars and painters talked girls into posing “unclothed” for artistic reasons, the only thing we could schmooze was language. Sometimes we just get a little over-zealous in showing it off.
With that said, though, we journalists at least used to confine our corn to major events like political scandals. Apart from the sports page we usually never torture hyperbole badly enough to warrant a trial at the Hague. Our affinity for trying to appear clever is usually confined to a prefix, or, more commonly, a suffix.
“Gate” was a popular suffix for a while. Watergate begat the supremely tortured Iran-Contragate, and from there we were saddled with Whitewatergate, Monicagate, Electiongate (the one in 2000), and the apparently dying-gasp effort, Iraqgate.
I suppose it’s better than trying to spell out “Lewinsky” or plant “WMD” into words describing political buffoonery. Though, to be fair, I’m glad we never latched onto either half of “quagmire.” The “quag-conomy” or “North Korea-mire” would just be the end of it for me as a reporter.
Still, despite that legitimate journalists at least strove to keep their cutesy-poo confined to matters of national policy and security, it’s our own damn fault for trying to be clever that now we are inundated with hopeful hyperbole torturers looking to leave their mark on the cultural landscape. Bloggers, tabloid hacks, and gossip columnists have thrown themselves over the literary ledge in a mass attempt at coming up with something cute, and the wake of it is a lingering sense that there is little meat left to legitimate wordcraft.
It started with celebrity name combinations. Bennifer I think was the first one, the union of Ben Affleck to Jennifer Lopez — who apparently was so scarred she could not reclaim her full name and now just goes by J-Lo. Perhaps I should be S-Mo. Or Sco-Mo. Or at least I should be glad my first name isn’t Homer.
Once the creators of Bennifer hit the word-lottery we immediately were treated to the kind of one-upmanship that only the true hack could escalate — Brangelina. Tom-Kat. Speidi – which refers to Heidi and Spencer on “The Hills” – is the latest.
When the hack squad realized it could move past mere names, it veered into the uncharted territory of guy-hood. Two close male friends were now in a bro-mance. And if they broke up they were considered dude-vorced.
We also have had to put up with several permutations of the suffix “sexual.” Metrosexual led us to retrosexual (though I don’t pretend to know what that means), and to the hopeful uber-sexual, which describes men who have it all — fame, money, looks, fans, and are visible champions of a social cause. Bono is one of those. I would be too, except I’m missing six or seven pieces of the criteria.
Right now we seem to be caught in the grip of corporate-inspired hokum, themed around the word “vacation.” The actual ones I’ve heard are:
Stay-cation, in which you spend a week at home, in your yard, or on your couch reading the penetrating insight of a whiny journalist;
Break-ation, which is when you indulge yourself like a frat boy on a cruise for the length of your morning coffee break;
Fake-ation, which is when you tell someone you’re going somewhere that you’re not; and
Work-ation, which you will understand better when you read Karen Hodges Miller’s Interchange piece in this issue.
I would like to think that journalists, trained in all manner of writing and interpreting information, could again win enough of your trust to be the go-to source for tortured hyperbole and limp attempts at being clever. After all, bad writing is too important to be left to the unqualified.