Date: Tue, 11 Jan 1994 10:49:53 CST From: Dennis Baron 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 universe. 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. __________ Dennis -- 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 ==). \ __________\ (__) ()___________)