Dictionary.com Takes A Huge Dump On Nerd Culture (or Let’s Get Hashtag Epic Fail Trending)

WARNING: This post is tl;dr and contains much snarkiness and nerdiness.

I have used both the dictionary.com website and the app for a while now, mostly when I want a quick second opinion about a definition, and I am not at home to check a real dictionary. The website is, visually speaking, very busy and full of ads. The app takes a long time to load and usually is no better than the iOS native dictionary, but I like the word of the day function, even if (or possibly because) their choices are obscure and not useful in either normal writing or speech.

The other day, I noticed a link to a blog post on the word of the day pop-up, so I followed it because the title intrigued me. It was an opinion piece about the worst words of 2012, and when I read it I couldn’t help but notice the domination of this list by geek-centric terms. As a self-professed word nerd, I take offense on many levels.

Here are their selections and my thoughts on them:

Fiscal Cliff — the most overused term in 2012 politics.

This phrase rose to prominence when Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the United States Federal Reserve, in a speech in February. “Fiscal cliff” is meant to describe what will happen to America’s tax policy and spending plan in 2013 if Congress fails to address certain plans that are already in motion.

Is it actually a cliff? No. Will it change our economic lives so drastically that we’ll have to flee to the woods and build log cabins? No. Have politicians and pundits used the term with such abandon that it’s lost all meaning and now has more to do with scaring tax payers/civilians than writing fiscal policy? You bet!

Granted the term is stupid, meaningless buzz talk, but that is the state of all politics today. There is a literal conspiracy among pundits to always use the same talking points. But this post is supposed to be about words and not politics, a point that is lost on the author, who chooses this forum to interject their own punditry.

Selfie — a picture you take of yourself by holding the camera at arm’s length, recognizable by the fact that your arm is in the picture.

A term so omnipresent and pervasive in our culture that I have never heard it before. Perhaps it is a regional phenomenon, if there is still such a thing. (I have heard the term selfpic, which is arguably just as bad.) By the way, where should my arm be?

Epic — hyperbolic synonym for incredible, great, important.

This word is so overused that we’ve had it on banished word lists three years running. But epic refuses to stay gone. Here’s our reasoning: Unless your outfit or car is so tectonically earth-shattering that the poets will be singing its praises for 2,000 years to come, unless it has been to hell and back and is ostensibly banging on the gates of Troy. . . it’s not epic.

The Beatles were not Mozart, and Star Wars was not Shakespeare. And of course this is written in Ancient Greek because words and their meanings never change over time.

Nerds and geeks have to use hyperbolic terms because THEY GET REALLY EXCITED ABOUT THE THINGS THAT THEY LOVE!!!, and marketing firms have raised the superlative bar to stratospheric heights. It is not in your power to decide how much a nerd loves his new phone, nor what the definition of a word means now or will mean in the future. Besides, those cat GIF’s are pretty sweet.

Humblebrag — using humility to cover up the fact that you’re actually bragging. This technique often backfires, making the brag worse, i.e. “People just won’t stop texting me, you’re lucky you have so much time to yourself.”

Foghorn Leghorn - It's a Joke

TLDR — acronym for “Too Long, Didn’t Read.”

Our advice: If you find yourself moved to type this non-sentence, take a good look in the linguistic mirror and picture yourself on the other end of that email. At the very least try TLSI: Too Long, Skimmed It.

First off, it’s tl;dr for “Too long; didn’t read”, because it’s one thing to ironically abbreviate two sentences to show your displeasure at someone’s failure to edit themselves effectively, and quite another to have a comma splice. Also, If you’re seeing this too much, did you ever pause to wonder whether it was perhaps your fault?

To trend/trending — to become popular.

As we predicted in our unheeded January list of words to banish from 2011, this maddeningly unspecific verbification is still going strong. [sic]

Way to use a made-up word to complain about a real one. The process of parts of speech migrating from verb to noun to adjective is a common and normal part of linguistic evolution. If a lot of people are using a particular word in a specific way to mean the same thing, that is how language works. When people try to codify and stagnate a language, that is how it dies.

To curate – to organize information on a web page or other non-museum entity.

Museums have curators, galleries have curators–are you a curator because you found 10 cute puppy photos and posted them on your wall? Probably not. Did we just curate this banished words list? We’d rather not say.

Before you complain, you should probably look up the definition of the word in, let’s say, the dictionary. [def. 4]

Source: dictionary.com c2012/12/28

Source: dictionary.com c2012/12/28

I noticed they also used the word “trending” as an adjective. You might want to speak to someone about that. Oh, and while you’re there, why don’t you look up hypocrisy?

Bubble — used as a suffix to describe any group or community. . .ever.

The college bubble, the liberal bubble, the conservative bubble, the California bubble, the American bubble…if we get to the “Earth bubble” something is going to pop.

Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and caldron…uh…effervesce?

Hashtag — a Twitter symbol that has grown into an orthographic monster.

What began as a “pound sigh” or “number sign” and became a method for Twitter users to search tweets with common topics has morphed into the new URL. (Wondering what “URL” stands for? Watch the computer terms slideshow.) Obviously we’re over it, but we’re not everyone. See our thorough discussion of the hashtag–and its real name–here.

Just because no one will follow you on Twitter is no reason to dump on the rest of us who use it. Of course if you spend all your time criticizing how other people are destroying the language, it’s no wonder that you are as popular as one of those pedants who keeps correcting everyone else’s grammar. #unfollow

To reach across the aisle — an attempt at bipartisan politics in the United States Congress.

What separates Democrats from Republicans? Is it fiscal policy? Social issues? No, it’s the aisle! Our legislators need only to reach across that small span of carpet to govern cooperatively, but once that gap is breached, what do they do? Perhaps they lightly drop an olive branch on the opposing party’s desk, or yank them back to their side by the lapel. We don’t know–the term only goes to the aisle.

Judging by the state of American politics, letting the carpet make the decisions might be an improvement. Complaining that politicians use trite and meaningless clichés, is like complaining that their lips are moving or the sky is blue.

Hipster — the flannel-wearing, liberal arts-educated, indie music-listening, director name-dropping, craft beer-drinking, 20-or-30-something dude or dudette that you’ve definitely seen and possibly are.

According to the Google Ngram Viewer, use of the word “hipster” spiked in 1961, dropped by over half in the mid 80s, and clawed its way back to prominence in the new millennium.

Overusing the word “hipster” is the definition of irony. Overusing the word “irony” is the definition of hipster. It’s a vicious circle.

YOLO – really annoying acronym for “You Only Live Once.”

Thanks Drake. Thanks a lot. The fun catch phrase born in the rapper’s single “The Motto” has spread like a forest fire through the vocabularies of what feels like every English speaker under 25, and now the term is just an excuse for teenagers to act like idiots. “Should I run into oncoming traffic? YOLO!” Its verb form “YOLOing” is just as cringe-worthy: “Great night of YOLOing, good thing I woke up in time for dinner.” Sure, go ahead and YOLO. As far as science can tell us, you do only live once. But before you eat that live tarantula, take a minute and think about how long you want to be YOLOing for.

Yolo is the scarlet letter for douchebags. Without it, I wouldn’t know who I should want to punch in the face. I am, however, in favour of banning Drake.

Seriously, just because you don’t like someone’s culture is no reason to try to take it down with such vitriol. It is elitist, pretentious and unprofessional. Yes, words and phrases do get overused, but so do Christmas carols; that is no reason to ban them. It is a consequence of living in a media saturated society.

The occasional joke is one thing, but to dismiss entire groups because you dislike the verbiage is beneath contempt. Twitter is a gathering of communities, as are hipsters, nerds and whatever those yolo people call themselves. So, thank you anonymous dictionary.com employee for failing to differentiate between use and abuse and letting your personal taste stand as a bastion for the world to emulate.

Also, it’s one thing to be snarky on your own personal blog, but when you represent a company that’s trying to sell a product on the Internet, it’s best not to crap on your customers. And if words bother you so much, you might want to consider a career change. YOLO!

Crazed recluse and sociophobe who has taken up writing after failing at everything else. Send pizza.

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3 comments on “Dictionary.com Takes A Huge Dump On Nerd Culture (or Let’s Get Hashtag Epic Fail Trending)
  1. MishaBurnett says:

    The annoying thing about that article’s dismissal of “epic” is that “epic” doesn’t mean “lasting for thousands of years” it refers to a specific style. “Epic poetry” doesn’t mean “really great poetry” it means “poetry written in the epic style”. It is perfectly valid usage to speak of “bad epic poetry”, for example. (c.f. the Eighteenth Century.)

    The epic style is characterized by a focus on that which is universal within the specific. Epic works are designed to appeal to anyone, to tell the story of a hero in such a way that people who do not share his cultural bias can still relate to his struggles. The themes tend to be easily summed up in single words–love, betrayal, forgiveness, revenge. This is why so many works that survive are written in the epic style–the works outlive the culture that spawned them.

    Consequently, the modern familiar usage of “epic” tends to be more in keeping with the original meaning of the word than that which is ascribed to it by the authors of that article. These days when I hear of someone refer to “an epic fail” for example, it usually means a failure that is so blatant that it’s obvious even to someone who is not familiar with the act being attempted. That is actually using the word “epic” more properly than in the sense of “something that will be remembered for centuries.”


  2. I must not be a hipster, because half of these words, or the new “definitions” he cited for them, are Greek to me.


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