Thursday, April 16, 2015


I usually consider myself reasonably well-equipped to understand most non-technical reading matter, if written in English that is. There are, though, still a couple of words which regularly cause me to pause and ask myself, "now what does that really mean?" Both queries have been mentioned in posts in the past and relate to the words "postmodern" and "meta".
Snips and links

What the heck is "postmodern" or "postmodernism"? I researched, read and continued to ponder. I've come to the conclusion that, in the main, it's used fairly indiscriminately by those who want to sound knowledgeable. It literally means something which occurs later than that which was thought to be modern : post = after. So really, postmodern is very modern, more modern than modern. But no - that's not it! Postmodern is a reaction to the modern - a going back to what was there before the modern happened. It's all very confusing! If post-modern means anything then, astrology is postmodern. We're in an era where the commonly held motto is "astrology is crap". Postmodern thinking dictates that we revert to eras of long ago when astrology was revered. Astrology is postmodern! Post is HERE.

It appears writers who feel they are being "hip" or "cool" now use meta to refer to something that is self-referential. Sigh. I searched for enlightenment, found this piece by Ben Zimmer from last May in the Boston Globe He begins:

You know what? I’d love to write a column about the word meta. I could explain how meta started off as a prefix meaning “above or beyond” (the metaphysical realm is beyond the physical one) or “at a higher level of abstraction” (metalanguage is language used to describe other language). Then I could talk about how meta broke free as a standalone adjective to mean “consciously self-referential” and has become a perfect meta-commentary on the consciously self-referential age we live in. Maybe I could even start the column with an introduction about wanting to write about the word meta..........
Post and link are HERE
, along with comment from mike.

I'll probably have to accept a personal mental blind-spot for those two words.

A couple of other word-quirks I've been noticing lately in TV conversations and interviews, serious or light-hearted -

1. Speaker begins his/her responses with "So......." when the word doesn't fit the context at all.

"So..." is being used in place of the old fashioned "Erm..." or "Hmm..." or just a pregnant pause to give the speaker a split-second's worth of time to think. What surprises me is how many otherwise brilliant individuals have picked up the "So..." habit - I heard Elizabeth Warren do it not long ago.

2. The other word-quirk is use of the word "hashtag" in conversation. Before I arrived in the USA I wasn't even aware of hashtags. Learned about them first as used before a numeral: #3, as, I guess, short form for "number 3". Then I came across a similar symbol depicted on the telephone receiver, experienced panic when told by some robot responder to "press 2 then the pound sign."
I risked pressing the hashtag-looking thing and all worked out well enough - as well as things can when speaking with a robot!

Hashtag, the word, has been creeping into conversation, I've noticed it in light-hearted TV conversations a few times. Someone will make a remark about a current topic, then add, for instance, "hashtag so topical" (but replacing "so topical" with more hip-sounding word(s) summing up the topic in question).

So...what can I say.... it's all meta and postmodern...hashtag don't understand!


Anonymous said...

Hashtags in convos usually refer to hot twitter or instagram topics, viz:
You can say a little bird told you so ;P

I too have noticed that everyone begins sentences with 'so' these days - even scientists on our CBC radio program 'Quirks and Quarks'.

Another usage that drives me to distraction is what I term 'doodoo' speak, where simple straightforward verbs like work or play have been replaced with 'do' work and 'do' play.

Or how about the replacement of 'patients', 'clients', 'students', etc. with 'consumers' and/or 'stakeholders'. Ugh ugh ugh.

Twilight said...

Sabina ~ LOL! Oh yes, I should have included that I realise the origin of the hashtag menace - I have a Twitter account - used mainly to read Tweets of a handful of others, mostly I'm a silent bird. I'll occasionally glance down the list of hashtagged "Trending" topics, sometimes spot that someone famous has died, before I've seen the news elsewhere - oh yes, and I do enjoy the Tweets of God. ;-)

The hashtag menace to which I was meaning to refer is the use of the word outside of Twitter, jokingly (I guess) in normal, real life conversation, usually between young people. A strange creeping menace?

The "so" thing is just... erm... SO silly, it has to be caused by some new intrusion of a human parrot gene.

I agree on the other examples you mention - I can't see how or why those "caught on".

Another annoyance came to mind as I'm typing - "very unique" is creeping in. Something is unique or not unique it can't be very unique.

mike said...

So...(LOL)...if postmodern is weird, how about neomodern? This Wiki paragraph has it all:

"Neomodern architecture continues modernism as a dominant form of architecture in the 20th and 21st centuries, especially in corporate offices. It tends to be used for certain segments of buildings. Many residential houses tend to embrace postmodern, new classical and neo-eclectic styles, for instance, and major monuments today most often opt for starchitect inspired uniqueness."

And "starchitect"!?!?

"Starchitect is a portmanteau used to describe architects whose celebrity and critical acclaim have transformed them into idols of the architecture world and may even have given them some degree of fame amongst the general public. Celebrity status is generally associated with avant-gardist novelty."

A Latino friend told me that when he arrived in the USA, he thought he had a decent command of the English language, as he studied it thoroughly prior to immigrating. His first job in the states was cleaning offices and his boss told him to "dust" the furniture one night. Fortunately, he asked for clarification and was told to remove the dust (not add it), but his boss told him that his questions were "rubbing him the wrong way". LOL. It's easy to get into trouble with words.

Twilight said...

mike ~ It' back to "We're all mad here" isn't it?

"Words are all we have" (as the song goes), but they are being mangled at an increasing rate, like most other things humans have relied on since the year dot. :-/