Sep 23, 2008

The new vocabulary

In times of strife, old or obscure words are often called upon as our thinking class tries to get its mental arms around the crisis at hand. Old words in particular can be comforting, since they imply a continuity between what is happening now and what has happened before.

Writers try words on for size, trading them on blogs and in columns. Those that succeed in hitting the sweet spot of the current ethos find their way into common circulation.

For instance, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld reintroduced us to "slog" back in 2003. Perhaps already familiar to fans of cricket, the word had a poetical precision that both denoted and connoted an as-yet-defined angst about the Iraq war (it was used to refer to the war in Afghanistan, as well). "Slog" has found its way into the vernacular. "Stentorian" may well have had a better run had John Kerry won in 2004.

As journalists, academics, think tankers try to gain an intellectual foothold on the scope of the credit crisis/mortgage crisis/$700-billion Wall Street bailout, I've noticed the words "plutocrat" and "corporatist" popping up. The phrase "moral hazard" has also come into fashion. Will any of them succeed? "Clusterfuck" might also make a return; although I'm not sure it ever went away.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There is a word that perfectly captures the Bush administration:



government by the worst persons; a form of government in which the worst persons are in power.

coined on analogy of aristocracy from Gk. kakistos "worst," superl. of kakos "bad" (which is perhaps related to the general IE word for "defecate") + -kratia "rule of," from kratos "strength, power, rule"