There’s a scene in this really good show called High Maintenance where this jerk (the name of the episode is Assholes, I believe) tells the bartender he can tell that the beer selection is the bartenders choice because “its really well curated.” Why is this funny? It’s not that something being well curated is funny. A well arranged beer selection doesn’t necessarily lay down the bedrock for a good joke. But having someone tell you your selection is well curated is kind of brings a bitter taste the mouth. I guess this character would still give me the creeps if he said “That’s a well chosen beer selection.” But its not the same. Curated is a buzzword.
Like many people, I hate buzzwords. They are usually law or business words and anyone that has glossed over fine print knows that there’s a whole lexicon of words so featureless that they resist memorization. Recently the word “Actionable” has been enjoying a lot of lip time. It’s a law term ironically meaning “grounds for action.” As in “using law words make ridicule actionable, and are best left to the courtroom.” For me it conjures images of long boring meetings with people who are, at that very moment, dead inside. Look, this world compels a lot of us tamp our souls down into our shoes when we punch in. It sucks. But don’t let jargon out into the larger world. The way you express yourself is part of who you are to those around you. If I hear you say to me something about how you “weren’t given actionable information,” I’m going to roll my eyes.
Even worse than this is Disruptive. Disruptive is just used to describe people that make room for themselves in a market. When I hear that some shitty app is “CHANGING THE WORLD” by changing the way you count your change or something (actually not a terrible idea…) I reach deep down into the most childish depths of myself and start making a gesture of slow masturbation. “Oh yeah…you’re so disruptive!” Saying that your app is changing the world is kind of true in the same way that dying a few hairs on your arm changes who you are. It’s a change, but it’s not solving the world’s problems.
That same masturbatory motion comes out when I read book reviews. Something like “Dennis is a writer whose talent has cracked the firmament of the literary world. His work is singular, important, challenging, humbling, and wise. We are lucky that such a genius is alive today and should remember him every time we draw breath.” Here I would like to say that “Singular” is another kind of ubiquitous show-off word that doesn’t really mean anything anymore. The definition can be boiled down to “exceptional.” But since that word presumably got worn out on other book reviews long ago, singular has taken the stage. I get it, there just aren’t that many ways to say “really good” but its getting to the point where the word singular doesn’t really mean anything. I hear it used to describe anything vaguely literary.
In my opinion these words are as much about their meanings as they are about showing that the person that uses them is knowledgeable about a certain industry. Sure you could have used a different word that has a place in common conversation, but by using a buzzword you tap into cronyism. It’s almost like using a backhanded complement. You describe something while also serving yourself. I know, I should probably just relax, but its getting egregious. I’m having to mime wanking off in all kinds of unexpected situations.
Enough ranting, time for a word I actually enjoy. Here’s a word that I bet started out as a buzzword but I have come to enjoy very much: galvanize. To galvanize means “To shock into action.” It sounds satisfying to me. The history is also satisfying. A scientist named Luigi Galvani did some experiments involving putting a gentlemanly amount of electricity through dead frog. Galvani attributed the movement of a pair of frogs legs to a fluid he dubbed Animal Electricity. A peer of Galvani’s named Alessandro Volta raised some issues with the theory. In the process of checking Galvani’s work Volta invented the first battery, and later tipped his hat to Galvani by helping coin the term Galvanize. Though there isn’t a fluid that carries a current through living things in order to control the body, Galvini did hit upon the notion that cells are activated chemically. A+ for effort. In the late 19th century his name became synonymous with “shocking the hell out of something until it moves,” a contribution that we all enjoy today.