Back in my day, the revered 1960s — cue “Where have all the flowers gone?” — we never trusted anyone over 30; these days, it would be unseemly, even pathetic for anyone older than 30 to use a term like “squee” or “twerk” or “vom.” Or even to be aware of them and their meanings. I certainly wasn’t. Such words are useful — all words are useful — but most of this vogue lingo is wholly restricted to a certain demographic (kids with smartphones) and a certain context (instant messaging and Twitter).
“Squee,” by the way, is an exclamation of “great delight or excitement.” According to the ODO, it originated from “squeal.” No doubt, but I think the screech of a squeegee on a windshield might also play its part. “Twerk” means to “dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low squatting stance.” I’m told by an informed source — my youngest son — that it is associated chiefly with the actress Miley Cyrus. It would be wildly inappropriate for a gentleman my age to recognize, let alone employ, this word. I’ll stick with “bump and grind.” Vom is simply a shortened form of vomit. It saves two characters when twittering. Or tweeting. Whatever.
Like so much digital terminology, many of these new words are ugly. Ever since the computer age got going, it has gravitated to repulsive-sounding terminology, starting with all forms of “blog.” Writer, author, even journalist: All these sound like admirable professions. But blogger. Yech. I know the term’s origin — Web log — and I understand how people naturally gravitate to contractions, but the end result is still repulsive. Don’t even get me started on “the blogosphere.”
Unfortunately, rebarbative lingo seems here to stay: Jorts are defined as “shorts made of denim fabric” and presumably arose by eliding “jeans” and “shorts.” I imagine that “Klaatu barada nikto” is the international clothing chain behind “Jorts.” (My little joke: Think “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”) Widely used already, a MOOC is “a course of study made available over the Internet without charge to a very large number of people.” This phenomenon is clearly here to stay, but “I’m taking a MOOC” sounds disgustingly lavatorial. A “selfie” is a photograph of oneself, typically “with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.” When I first glanced at the list, I thought it said “selkie,” and I was impressed that Scottish merpeople were now on the cutting edge.
A few of this quarter’s new words seem not at all new. Or maybe they’ve only recently made their way to the dreaming spires of Oxford. A “blondie” — meaning, in dictionary language, “a small square of dense, pale-coloured cake, typically of a butterscotch or vanilla flavour” — has surely been around as long as its darker brother, the brownie. Didn’t actress Jean Seberg have a “pixie cut” 50 years ago in “Breathless”? It can’t be a new word, can it? “Balayage,” a particular way of highlighting the hair, seems like something that a French hairdresser would toss around and nobody else. “Space tourism” simply joins two familiar words together in a new context. It’s a fresh concept but hardly a new word. Same goes for “street food.”