8 New Words In an Evolving Language

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I love language. I can’t remember a time when I was not an avid reader, and I’ve always enjoyed wordplay.

I can be a stickler about many things English-language related (hello, beloved Oxford comma), but I recognize that the English language is a living, breathing entity, not a static one. Social media has, to me, put the evolution of English on hyperdrive.

I think of all of the words consigned to word graveyard because a hashtag takes their place. For example, in this tweet…

…an “I” and an “am” and a “so” all remained home in the word farm stable, unused, because a hashtag did all the heavy lifting for a passage which would have otherwise read “After an intense homework session, finally going to bed. I am so tired.” (I do this frequently too, I just couldn’t find an example when writing this post, so thanks @stinger444 for the perfect example.)

New Words in an Evolving Language

The way our language usage has changed due to Twitter and other forms of social media is a topic for a whole post of its own. What I want to talk about today is new words which I have come across in the last year that made me go, “HUH….”

In some cases, they are words that are a bit ingenious in representing a particular concept. In others, they (to me) signal either a new humanitarian sensitivity or, in some cases, a walking on eggshells nod to political correctness.

Prior to writing this post, I looked up “how a word gets into the dictionary” which has a great infographic detailing the routes words take to being “official.” For each word, I’ll let you know if it’s in the dictionary yet and I’ll share a few thoughts on the word. They’re not presented in any particular order. I just added them to a draft post as I ran across them.

Previvor

In the Merriam-Webster dictionary? NO

I don’t recall where I first read this word, but I think it may have been in reference to Angelina Jolie in an article like this one from the Washington Post.

previvor is the survivor of a predisposition to cancer who has not had the disease, such as a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation or other genes related to Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer (HBOC).

This is one of those words I want to be aware of. If someone uses it in a face-to-face conversation, I will be more prepared to understand the fears/emotions/challenges inherent in the fact that they are a previvor. Likewise, if someone uses it on social media, I won’t have to ask “what’s that?” and can respond in an informed and empathetic way.

If you are a previvor, this site, FORCE (Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered), may be of support.

Latinx

In the Merriam-Webster dictionary? NO

I don’t recall where I first read this word either, but for quite some time I thought it was an unusual typo and I could NOT figure out how to pronounce it. It’s not a typo. (Thanks, Complex, for cluing me in.)

According to Complex (linked above), Latinx is pronounced “La-TEEN-ex” and is a “gender-inclusive way of referring to people of Latin American descent.” In addition, “used by activists and some academics, the term is gaining traction among the general public, after having been featured in publications such as NPR to Latina.”

(By the way, the author of the Complex piece on Latinx, @yesipadilla, refers to herself as “Xicanx” so I think I see a trend!).

I’m glad I now know that Latinx is not a typo. I know that if someone uses it, they are explaining something important to them about their identity and how they want to be seen in the world. It’s one of those words that reminds us not to make assumptions.

It’s not like I have any authority to recommend a great site for the Latinx community, but since my work related to the CDC’s efforts around HIV Awareness is so important to me, I’ll highlight one of the first places I heard about the term Latinx: National Latinx AIDS Awareness Day (October 15). If you can recommend a general resource for those who identify as Latinx, I’d love to know about it.

Cisgender

In the Merriam-Webster dictionary? YES

The first place I really recall hearing this word frequently was at the We Won’t Wait 2016 conference in September, which had several sessions related to issues facing the transgender and LGBTQIA+ communities. Then I read Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out, a book which used this term, and decided I really needed to figure out what the reference meant.

According to Merriam-Webster, cisgender means of, relating to, or being a person whose gender identity corresponds with the sex the person had or was identified as having at birth. For examples of how it is used, read the full definition here.

I have to be honest. The word “cisgender” sits funny on my ears. BUT I can see why it is useful, as part of the current dialogue about gender identity. There was a teen highlighted in Beyond Magenta who was a boy transitioning to a girl who went to an all-boys school. It sort of made me wonder about the world I’ve always known, which so tidily segregated boys from girls. Boys’ schools, girls’ schools, boys’ teams, girls’ teams. Things are changing. People who find themselves somewhere in the middle ground between “I 100% identify as male” and “I 100% identify as female” have a language to more accurately reflect the fact that they are on a journey whose terminology does not provide definition at times. Another area where I can converse in a more informed way now that I know.

To learn more about how to have a dialogue about gender identity, this is a helpful resource. It’s directed at teens but if you’re like me, your knowledge about gender issues may NOT correlate with your chronological age. We all need to start somewhere.

Cultural Appropriation

In the Merriam-Webster dictionary? NO

The first place I recall hearing this phrase was in a post about a Disney-themed costume. I believe it was an article like this one about a Moana costume. The term “cultural appropriation” has continued to assert itself in the content I read. I don’t recall if the exact term was used, but if not the concept itself was covered in Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving.

In About News, Susan Scafidi defines Cultural Appropriation as “Taking intellectual property, traditional knowledge, cultural expressions, or artifacts from someone else’s culture without permission. This can include unauthorized use of another culture’s dance, dress, music, language, folklore, cuisine, traditional medicine, religious symbols, etc. It’s most likely to be harmful when the source community is a minority group that has been oppressed or exploited in other ways or when the object of appropriation is particularly sensitive, e.g. sacred objects.”

I struggle with this one (but I do, for starters, understand it and believe awareness is key). If you know me at all, you know I am a proud double alum of Florida State University. Since I became a freshman in 1982 through now, I have seen changes: Lady Scalphunters are now Lady Spirithunters, for example. I realize it was disingenuous to parrot back what I was always told: “well the Seminole nation is okay with it.” But rightly or wrongly I still embrace Seminole fan paraphernalia and …… well, it’s a work in progress.

This resource I found about cultural appropriation was the best kind of resource: it involves your mind while engaging you in an activity beyond reading. I present: Cultural Appropriation Bingo from Dr. Sheila Addison.

Phygital

In the Merriam-Webster dictionary? NO

I learned the term Phygital from a Spin Sucks blog post, Four Phygital Marketing Ideas to Grow Your Business, by @openagentoz.

Phygital customer expects a brand to combine the physical and the digital for a best-of-both-worlds experience

Honestly, after Cultural Appropriation, I’m just happy to have a word that isn’t laden with challenge to discuss (but hold on to your physical hats and enjoy this section because Othering is coming up next).

Knowing the word Phygital makes me feel up to date on marketing trends. I personally *love* being a consumer contributor of Social Snaps, such as this Fitbit/Giant Microbes/Shot at Life Instagram post.

Evolving Language

For more about all things “phygital,” transport yourself way back to 2012 and read this.

Othering

In the Merriam-Webster dictionary? NO

There are No Others defines Othering as “any action by which an individual or group becomes mentally classified in somebody’s mind as “not one of us.” Rather than always remembering that every person is a complex bundle of emotions, ideas, motivations, reflexes, priorities, and many other subtle aspects, it’s sometimes easier to dismiss them as being in some way less human, and less worthy of respect and dignity, than we are.”

This is another term that is new to me. I think it was in Waking Up White (linked above), but I read the audio and can’t easily look it back up. Regardless, I’m hearing it often and my consciousness is raised. This is somewhat tied into the compulsion to “help” that I grew up with. I *think* my support of Unbound is sensitive to “othering” but how many times have I written about “those in poverty” and really done so in a way that respects each individual’s worth?

There are some good resources for learning about “othering” here.

Carefrontation

In the Merriam-Webster dictionary? NO

I first heard this term used by Dan Negroni, author of Chasing Relevance. Although I can’t find that reference anymore (why on earth didn’t I  hang on to the link then?!, a twitter search turns up lots of instances).

As defined on Oprah.comCarefrontation is “putting our heads together to reach a common goal.” Read the complete post here.

I know I avoid confrontation, and by doing so lose out on opportunities to have peace of mind and to actually get things I want. Maybe there’s something to be said for, as the Oprah.com article recommends, implementing a three-point plan of preparing with care, offering an invitation to talk, and practicing no-blame talking and listening.

Where to find more about Carefrontations? I could link to this but then I would have to add “choice points” to my list and I feel like I’m at capacity right now. 😉 Here’s a post about it from Great Leadership that’s a good read.

Fungineering 

In the Merriam-Webster dictionary? NO

I first heard this term used in this New York Times book review of Why Are Americans So Anxious? related to Zappo’s.

Fungineering at Zappo’s is defined in this article as “a kind of events-planning pep squad.”

I just like “fungineering” because it’s a neat word mashup and portrays some of the out-of-the-box ways organizations can bring humor and joy to the workplace. However, I was alarmed at the reference in the book review to how the author seeks input from Zappo’s happiness evangelist Tony Hsieh: “Whippman has a weird email exchange with Hsieh in which he uses lots of exclamation points and refers to the ‘holacracy’ and ‘brand aura’ (she doesn’t know and neither do I). But he declines to meet with her because he doesn’t prioritize people he feels ‘drained by after I interact with them,’ he writes.”

Where to find more about fungineering? I’m guessing you might not want to contact Tony Hsieh directly but if you’re in College Station, TX, this may be an option to explore.

WHAT NEW WORD WOULD YOU ADD TO THIS LIST? 

Evolving Language

Florida State University: How We Get Made

I recently discovered (via Laura) the “A Learning A Day” series. The series delivers concise, insight-filled emails which prompt recipients to think about work/life issues from different and deeper angles.

This recent post, for example, looks at our tendency to think “if only conditions had been perfect.” My runner peers and I undoubtedly think this frequently:

If it had been cooler (hello summer running in Florida!)

If the race course had been flatter

If my shoes had been newer

If I had not had that second glass of wine last night

The list goes on and on

The Learning A Day post ends with this observation:

The only trustworthy indicator of our performance level is our performance on a bad day.

So, if you get that opportunity to perform on your best day with perfect conditions, revel in it. It doesn’t happen often. But, when it does, it is magical.

On the other hand, if you feel most things are going wrong as you enter that important presentation [or insert relevant challenge/assignment here], welcome to life. This is how we get made.

Over the past few weeks, as I have joined my fellow Florida State alumni, fans, and supporters in sharing what I love about FSU via the #somuchmorethanfootball hashtag, I have been thinking more than usual about all of the incredible memories I made at FSU, the memories I still make here, and how to reconcile decades of great experiences with the FSU (and Tallahassee) which distills itself into the sneer I hear in the voices of national news anchors and celebrities (at least I feel like I hear it!).

A Personally Fearless Time

Through an unexpected series of Facebook conversations over the past few days, I ended up telling a Facebook friend a story that in retrospect is so embarrassing but lends itself to my point. When I was a senior at FSU, I wanted to be Homecoming Princess. The process was detailed and arduous: there were interviews to be selected as one of ten candidates, and then of course you had to accrue the most votes to be princess or be in the top five to be on the Court. I studied my FSU history so hard to be prepared for the interview. I made it to candidate level, and I did make it on the Court.

Florida State University: How We Get Made

With my parents after the Homecoming Parade.

Here’s the embarrassing part: I asked people to vote for me. Not just one or two friends. Another candidate and I went to fraternity and sorority houses who did not have candidates and asked them to vote. I did not hesitate to ask complete strangers to vote. In retrospect, of course it was a completely classless thing to do. On the flip side, I treasure the memories of being on the field during homecoming, proud to represent my university. Putting aside the “tactless” part, I remember feeling fearless in my quest. In the times over the ensuing decades when I have failed myself in the area of assertiveness, I remember what it felt like to tell strangers what I wanted, confident that I had a case.

It’s 2015; Time to Make a Different Case

Florida State taught me fearlessness. It also taught me so many things about Strength, Skill, and Character (Vires Artes Mores). It taught me to learn new things, meet new people, pursue new experiences. The background music of my time at Florida State is undeniably punctuated with the FSU Fight Song, The Hymn to the Garnet and the Gold, and the Alma Mater. I have sat through countless football games, long before we were National Champions, in years when the record was most definitely average. Our family has spent more money than the family budget really accommodated to be Seminole Boosters, purchase tickets, and park among the other faithful (although we are not currently Boosters or ticket holders).

For every #somuchmorethanfootball sentiment we share on social media, I do think we are kidding ourselves if we do not think the image of our football team and the actions of a few players disproportionately influence what the rest of the world sees and believes.

We can make every effort to share with the world all of the accolades which lead us to #praisegarnetandgood. But the headlines are not likely to gush about those when they can rant about the bad.

I don’t know the solution. I do know, that just like a family would not turn its back on a child who has gone astray, we owe it to ourselves to own this series of crises and contribute to a solution.

However we choose to react to the current spate of negative publicity, there may be negatives. Loss of revenue, loss of bragging rights, loss of football season habits and rituals built over decades by generations of fans.

This particular time in the public eye is difficult. I choose to think that these imperfect conditions are part of “how we get made,” that with strength, skill, and character, we can return to the “heads held high” we sing about in the Hymn to the Garnet and Gold.

Florida State University: How We Get Made