Garner’s Usage Tip of the Day: Vogue Words.

Vogue Words. In the mid-1990s, unnatural-looking hair dye became all the rage. Teenagers used it. Thirty-somethings used it — and applied it to their young children’s hair. Women of all ages used it. Even many middle-aged men used it. By 2001, the craze had long since spread over the globe. For example, in the summer of that year, it was difficult to spot, among hordes of young people at various places in Japan, a single undyed pate: seemingly everyone had light-brown or blond hair (if not some bolder color). That’s the way fads are. People latch onto them to make a statement about themselves. But the statement truly has little to do with individuality: it’s all about groupism. You adopt a fad to show that you’re with it, hip, or young at heart. You don’t want to be left out or left behind. That’s the essence of it. Linguistic fads are much the same, but they often work at a less conscious level. Words and phrases sprinkled into conversation — as well as certain syntactic habits — have an effect that’s essentially identical to that of ostentatiously dyed hair. Usage critics have traditionally grouped these phrases under the rubric of “Vogue Words.” Not surprisingly, various types of vogue words are used as badges to show that you belong to a certain group. If, in 2001, you wanted (subliminally or consciously) to show that you were sensitive to psychology, you’d have said that someone cannot bring closure to issues about codependency or dysfunctional mentoring or parenting or partnering; that a 12-step program will empower recovering addicts (or abusers, etc.) through validation and transparency. If you wanted to show that you were astute in business, you’d make a mantra of growing the business through solutions and workable solutions, especially e-solutions of various kinds. If you wanted to show that you were a cool person under the age of 25, you’d turn old laudatory adjectives into exclamatory nouns ending in “-ness” (Coolness! Awesomeness! Greatness!). If you didn’t want to discuss something — or really did but wanted to add to the salaciousness of the discussion — you’d say, “Don’t even go there!” or “I’m not even going to go there!” If you wanted to dismiss something that someone else had said to you or about you, you’d exclaim “Whatever!” (with the accent on the second syllable). But if you were grateful for some small thing that someone had done for you, you’d exclaim hyperbolically, “You’re my hero!” All these words and phrases, in short, say more about the speaker’s pose than about the speaker’s supposed meaning. Vogue expressions may have their origin in syntax, they may be neologisms, or they may be old words used in novel uses or senses. (The name “vogue expressions” might be the more accurate name — but “vogue words” is pretty well established.) Often they quickly become clichés or standard idioms, and sometimes they pass into obscurity after a period of feverish popularity. For information about the Language- Change Index click here. ————————————— Quotation of the Day: “When any words become obsolete, or at least are never used, except as constituting part of particular phrases, it is better to dispense with their service entirely, and give up the phrases.” George Campbell, The Philosophy of Rhetoric 166 (1776) (1850 ed. repr.: Lloyd F. Bitzer ed., 1988). —————————————
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