Date: Tue, 11 Jan 1994 10:49:53 CST

From: Dennis Baron debaron[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]UIUC.EDU

Subject: New Words

Now here's my contribution--, to appear in the Chicago Tribune probably

this week.


The Best Words of 1993

Dennis Baron

With the coming of each new year we are subjected to a

barrage of retrospective glimpses of the year gone by, on

the offchance that rehashing the top political scandals, the

worst movies, the most sociopathic celebrities, and of

course the most celebrated murderers, will somehow help us fit

our own humdrum lives into the overall scheme of things for

one more year.

In case you haven't had enough of the ten grossest box

office successes of 1993, or its ten rainiest days, or its

ten worst-performing mutual funds, here is my annual list of

the best words of last year. After all the end-of-year

summing up, and the football, which goes on and on, if we

are still in a mood to take stock of the past, one good way

to discover what a year meant is to look at the meanings of

its words.

One new word for 1993 was actually a revival, or

perhaps remake would be the better term. The "ATF": it's

not the machine where you get ready cash, it's

the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, a division of

the Treasury Department that had been forgotten since 1971,

when David Janssen portrayed "O'Hara, U.S. Treasury" on

television. (An earlier series based on the still-busting,

tax-collecting exploits of the T-persons, "Treasury Men in

Action," ran from 1950 to 1955.) Anyway, the ATF made news

when it bumped up against the Branch Davidians, a sect whose

name is as lucid as its beliefs.

Another word back in the spotlight after two decades of

low ratings is "warlord," a term first used in 1856 to

translate the German word for Emperor. It was later applied

to regional Chinese rulers, and then to Indonesian factions

and squabbles among Palestinian leaders. Now it refers to

politics in Somalia. It has always been a negative term.

When warlords become really successful we call them

presidential hopefuls. And we send them foreign aid.

Which brings us to another word, popular in any year,

"democracy." In 1993 democracy got a new twist in Russia,

where it came to mean the freedom to elect leaders who

advocate the end of democratic rule. But then, Russia has

been doing this for years.

Here at home, there's a group intent on ending language

democracy: these intellectual survivalists, holed out in an

isolated university in northern Michigan, oppose gun control

while they lobby for word control. They would ban from the

language such overused but no longer profitable words as

"paradigm" and "dysfunctional." Or at least impose a

five-day waiting period before you can actually say paradigm

in a sentence.

It wasn't terrorists last year but our own

democratically-elected Congress that pronounced dead the

unpronounceable "Superconducting Supercollider." Americans,

who spend billions annually on New Age books, music, tofu

and crystals in order to understand the mysteries of the

universe, made it clear they didn't want to spend billions

on science in order to understand the mysteries of the


1993 was ultimately the "Year of the Computer." And

the computer word of the year without question was

"Internet," the gigantic, loosely coordinated world-wide

network of personal computers, mainframes and phone lines

that allows millions of people to exchange vital research

and data, to play games when the boss isn't looking, and to

engage in "virtual" relationships, not relationships full of virtue,

but ones which are lifelike but just pretend.

The Internet, heralded by some visionaries as offering

a "paradigm shift" in human consciousness, allows us to

communicate around the globe from the privacy of our home

computer workstations, and in the workplace it promises to

replace telephone tag with email tag. Have your machine

call my machine.

Another computer term which was "way big" in '93 was

"the information superhighway." This phrase, used mostly by

politicians and reporters, refers to the limitless

possibilities that will be on offer when our TVs, computers,

and telephones are intertwined in complex, visionary new

fiber-optic ways that will make the Internet look like old

Route 66. The information superhighway has spawned a vast

array of metaphors, as people imagine on and off ramps,

telecommuting to work, public vs. private transportation,

gas stations and rest stops, highway beautification, and of

course the inevitable potholes, toll plazas, gridlock and

air pollution.

No one on the Internet talks about the information

superhighway. The term is beneath the notice of the true hackers.

So far as I can gather, all the information superhighway means so far

is 500+ cable channels, which means more home shopping, which means more

packages left at your front door by UPS to be rained on or

torn apart by wolves.

I noticed, by the way, while I was channel surfing last

week, that "O'Hara, U.S. Treasury" is back on cable. Like

many Americans, you may have trouble programming a VCR now,

but that's nothing--just you wait till they build that 500

channel information superhighway right through the middle of

your living room. Then you'll really be dysfunctional. But

you will be able to call O'Hara with your remote control,

and if you press "1" on your Touch-Tone phone he will come

over and personally deliver your income tax refund. But

don't press "2," or he'll lob tear gas through your window.




debaron[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE] (\ 217-333-2392

\'\ fax: 217-333-4321

Dennis Baron \'\ ____________

Department of English / '| ()___________)

University of Illinois \ '/ \ ~~~~~~~~~ \

608 South Wright St. \ \ ~~~~~~~~~ \

Urbana, IL 61801 ==). \ __________\

(__) ()___________)