I'm teaching a "writing-intensive" course this term, and I'm tempted to send my students this:

Funner. Impactful. Blowiest. Territorialism. Multifunctionality. Dialoguey. Dancey. Thrifting. Chillaxing. Anonymized. Interestinger. Wackaloon. Updatelette. Noirish. Huger. Domainless. Delegator. Photocentric. Relationshippy. Bestest. Zoomable.

What do all these words have in common? Someone, somewhere, is using them with a disclaimer like "I know it's not a real word..."


Writers who hedge their use of unfamiliar, infrequent, or informal words with "I know that's not a real word," hoping to distance themselves from criticism, run the risk of creating doubt where perhaps none would have naturally arisen.

Furthermore, those same writers are giving up one of their inalienable rights as English speakers: the right to create new words as they see fit. Part of the joy and pleasure of English is its boundless creativity: I can describe a new machine as bicyclish, I can say that I'm vitamining myself to stave off a cold, I can complain that someone is the smilingest person I've ever seen, and I can decide, out of the blue, that fetch is now the word I want to use to mean "cool." By the same token, readers and listeners can decide to adopt or ignore any of these uses or forms.

A shorter, snappier version of David Foster Wallace's "Authority and American Usage"? (Incidentally, I am assigning DFW's essay to my class, in all its 60+ page glory, because it provides a lot of helpful context that this brief newspaper piece lacks the space/time to include. The essay can be found in his non-fiction collection Consider the Lobster, which is filled to the brim with awesomeness.)

For some reason, I've never much used the "not a real word" line--neologisms are fun!--and I was always a little irritated by it (you never see it in academic philosophy, even though you know they're constantly making shit up).

At the same time, I don't want to see my students writing things like "While Kant was perhaps the most impactful writer of the Enlightenment, he was arguably also the blowiest. Dude needed some serious chillaxin'!" True, but ineloquent.


Words of Political Wisdom

I notice that the last entry I posted, on telco immunity, now sticks out at me in an unpleasant way, particularly since what "must be prevented" was not. This evening, as I was reading Etienne Balibar's short monograph Spinoza and Politics, I happened upon some passages he cites from Spinoza's incomparable Political Treatise. I find them especially relevant:

[W]hen the safety of a state depends on any man's good faith, and its affairs cannot be administered properly unless its rulers choose to act from good faith, it will be very unstable; if a state is to be capable of lasting, its administration must be so organized that it does not matter whether its rulers are led by reason or passion -- they cannot be induced to break faith or act badly. In fact it makes no difference to the stability of a state what motive leads men to conduct its affairs properly, provided that they are conducted properly. For freedom or strength of heart is a private virtue; the virtue of a state is stability.


[I]f human nature were such that men desired most what was most useful to them, there would be no need of artifice to promote loyalty and concord. But since, it is well known, human nature is very different, it is necessary to organize the state so that all its members, rulers as well as ruled, do what the common welfare requires whether they wish to or not; that is to say, live in accordance with the precept of reason, either spontaneously or through force or necessity. But this only happens when the administration is arranged so that nothing which concerns the common welfare is wholly entrusted to the good faith of any man.

I shall leave interpretation as an exercise for the reader.