Words We No Longer Understand: “Hero”

So, last week, we were effectively homeless for about 24 hours. We moved everything from the one house but couldn’t actually purchase the new house until the day following. We figured, “Hey, we could go live in the woods or something, and hunt squirrels by throwing our shoes at them,” but then it seemed a wiser idea to stay at my in-laws, instead. As delicious as squirrel meat happens to be (it really is!), this just seemed more civilized. Plus: hey, they have television! Yay television!

The morning of our new home purchase, my mother-in-law had the TV set to… uhhh, one of the morning programs. Which is the one with Matt Lauer and the jolly no-longer-all-that-fat-but-his-head-now-kinda-looks-like-a-cinderblock-made-of-melting-chocolate weatherman? Right. That one.

They did a segment on that show about Steven Slater.

By now, you’ve heard about this guy.

Slater, a flight attendant, got bitched at and maybe knocked in the head by some passenger using the overhead bin door, then went to the intercom, said some mildly profane shit, grabbed two beers, blew the emergency door and slid his fed-up buttocks to freedom. It’s a helluva way to quit your job.

But the slant on the story was a little different.

“Hero!”

“Working-Class Hero!”

“Folk Hero!”

What the fuck? Really?

Wait, wait, wait. Maybe it’s me that misunderstands. Maybe they redefined the word “hero” in the last few years? I’m supposed to get those memos, but you know dictionary bureaucracy! Let’s see, here — *flips through imaginary dictionary, which is to say loads up a dictionary website because nobody owns goddamn dictionaries anymore* — ahh, okay, here. Hero. Noun! Okay…

“A man distinguished by exceptional courage and nobility and strength; a champion: someone who fights for a cause.”

Blink, blink.

And a big question mark forms above my head. Bink.

Hero: guy who runs into burning building to save another life (man, woman, child, cat, wombat).

Hero: soldier putting his life on the line for country and ideals.

Hero: counter monkey at Quizno’s doesn’t like the stink-eye that the customer is giving him so he sprays hot sauce in her eyes, gulps a mouthful of Mountain Dew, and takes a dump in the sandwich toaster!

YEAAAAH! *guitar lick*

…wait, what?

One of these things is not like the other. Listen, I get it. Slater was fed up. And he was reportedly dealing with some bad news — dead father, sick mother. Further, nobody wants to suffer abuse at the hands of customers. I’ve worked retail. Customers can be a real buzzkill, man. They always want shit. They’re like needy infants, grabbing at you with sticky jam hands, crying when they can’t get what they want.

I had this one time, right? When I worked at an outlet bookstore? Customer was buying books for his kid — a 12-year-old boy or thereabouts — and he paid in cash, so I made his change, and just as I was about to hand him his money, he decided, no, no, I want to pay with this pocket full of change instead. So he wanted me to switch it out and re-give him change. I was like, “Okay, whatever,” but then I’m stymied because the register already went through its magical mathematic-cycle and here I am with several dollars in change, and I just plain don’t know what to give this guy back. I’m looking for a calculator to work it out, and the smarmy prickhole says to his kid: “See? That’s why you want to study hard and learn math so you don’t end up behind a counter like this guy.” Oh. Oh. No you didn’t. I was flushed, red-faced, equal parts embarrassed and angry (did I mention the line of customers behind this jackwagon?), and thankfully I had this fireplug of a boss, this don’t-give-a-fuck-ever guy named Jon DiPippo.

He got in the customer’s face, told him to take his money, leave the books, and get the hell out of the store.

It was pretty awesome.

At that time, DiPippo was my hero.

But he wasn’t a hero. In the grand scheme of things what he did was not particularly heroic. It’s not like the customer was threatening people with a fire ax or something. Nobody was throwing Jon a parade.

Nobody was going to get on the news and proclaim him a hero. Working-class, folk, or otherwise.

Slater had a meltdown. Decided to quit his job in a manner befitting the oppressed. Fine. Good. Whatever. Never mind the fact that what he did was illegal — y’know, blowing open an emergency hatch and stealing beer. Never mind the fact that flight attendants have protocol and can use that protocol to their advantage by basically kicking anybody off the plane for whatever reason they damn well choose (did you see last week that Delta kicked a passenger off the plane for asking if the pilot had been drinking?) — you whack a flight attendant in the head, you can get served a one-way ticket to the tarmac, lady. Never mind the fact that just as flight attendants have been abused by customers, customers have in turn been abused by flight attendants (seriously, some of those assholes are real assholes). Never mind the fact that this economy continues to stumble around like a newborn foal on trembling legs and that jobs are hard to come by –

Let’s proclaim him a hero!

He sacrificed for our good! And by “our good,” I actually mean, “his good!” He fought off the terrorists known as customers and stuck a thumb in the eye of his apparently reputable employer!

Woo! Hero! Hero time! Champion of the working stiff!

*poop noise*

No. No. He’s not a goddamn hero. You can approve of his actions, you can think what he did was abominable, you can not give one itty-bitty-titty what he did or who this guy is, but the one thing we don’t get to do is call him a hero. We go from 9/11 — a day of genuine heroism in the face of terror — to nearly ten years later, where we’re willing to call this cranky-pants flight attendant a hero?

Once, heroism was a gilded thing, a shining emblem of what it was to do right.

Now, it’s a half-off coupon at Bed, Bath and Beyond.

I think it’s time to start reclaiming words. Words that are being diluted by public misuse. What words do you hear that are constantly misused? What words strike your pet peeve nerve centers?

37 comments

  • He sacrificed his career, and dignity for our entertainment — isn’t that basically what the television has been teaching as the height of virtue for the last 30-odd years? All that’s missing is a square kick to the groin and he’d have managed the Modern TV Hero Trifecta.

    Besides, this is the same media that calls pretty much any bad thing a “tragedy”. They don’t really know what words mean.

  • How about ‘victim’? It’s sort of the opposite of hero, the person a true hero rescues or aides. A victim is someone who has had some misfortune happens to them and was powerless to stop it. Abused children. People trapped in a burning car wreck. Stroke patients. People in the path of natural disasters like earthquakes and flooding. Production assistants on reality TV shows.

    Okay, that last one doesn’t count, but that job HAS to suck.

    Now I hear things like “victim of restless leg syndrome”. Makes me sick to think of all the people, the real victims of bad karma who could use help and here’s some safety-cocooned, self-righteous putz claiming they are a “victim” of what amounts to muscle tremors. It’s like we can’t accept the fact that sometimes life deals you a bad card and suck hard like a pinprick in a spacesuit. I think that sort of thing increases our numb response to the word “victim”.

    Whatever happened to stopping, examining the situation critically, murmuring “well, that sucks”, rubbing some dirt in it and soldiering on? Does anyone do that anymore or am I a victim of “stoicism deficiency syndrome”?

  • You know, I’ve worked retail, and I’ve worked food service, and I now work in education. I don’t have to deal with post 9/11 travelers, which I imagine would suck, but I’ve seen my share of stupid.

    And you know what? I have no sympathy for anyone in this dude’s shoes. None. I don’t get the “I deal with customers so I hate people” misanthropic BS that people (usually in their 20s) pull. Yes, people can be myopic and self-centered, but that’s largely because our consumer culture encourages it. About all you can do is be a little Zen about it, and then go punch a pillow or a kitten or a (consensual!) partner about it later (on a related note, turns out Chessex battle mats make good spanking implements, who knew?).

    But I agree with you 100%. This dude is, like, the opposite of a hero.

    Now, let’s talk about the word “miracle.”

  • Not a hero, and certainly not a role model.

    And yet he’s been approached for a reality show in which he helps people quit their jobs in “creative” ways.

  • I think Slater’s got style and he’s good for a laugh, but that’s where it ended for me. I certainly heard the rebel yell when I read about him, but yeah – people blowing this shit way out of proportion. Sully (dude that landed the jet in the Hudson) – that dudes a hero. He then used his fame to forward the fight against the way pilots are treated and paid. Good guy. Love him.

    Slater? Well, he’s just like that other famous Slater from a decade ago. Fun for the moment and ultimately forgettable until he’s doing infomercials and Dancing With the Stars in a few years.

    As for words:

    Networking: This has come to mean damn near everything. I understand the point and why it is critical, but this words is used way to much and to encompass way to many things.

    Noir: This is a film student thing. I got to the point I started threatening to smack my jackhole classmates if I heard them say that god damn word again. I would also hit them really hard if I knew for a fact they didn’t know what noir is.

    American People: Every politician knows what we think, need, feel, and want (and all of them are pretty much wrong). We need to make our politicians scared of the American People again, because they are slaughtering just about everything in our name. Also, they actually usually means whatever lobbyist and SI group is up their ass at the moment.

    Beiber: For obvious reasons.

  • Elegant.

    I froth at the mouth whenever I hear people (television or out in the world) refer to something as elegant based only on its over inflated price tag. The word has been diluted down to merely mean expensive, losing the very spirit of the idea. Sure, elegant things do tend to be expensive BUT GOD DAMN IT DO NOT CALL A LIBERACE APPROPRIATE BEDAZZLED MILLION DOLLAR ANYTHING ELEGANT!

    Also, apocalypse.

    It does not mean “end of the world”. It means a vision, a revelation. Sure, that revelation is tied to the end of the world (thanks, St. John). But the word you people are looking for is ESCHATON.

    Lastly, people that say “addicting” instead of addictive. “Oh, this crack-laced chocolate-filled baby skull is soooooo addicting!” No. No. No. Fuckers need to go back to grade school and learn the difference between the adjective form and participle form of the word “addict”. I don’t care if both are technically correct, “addicting” is sloppy, sloppy, lazy English.

  • Hero: “I’m angry as hell…and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

    The reason people think he’s a hero is because he did something that most people would never have the balls to do. When you think about it, crazy or not, the way he quit was completely bad-ass. He cursed out the plane via intercom, popped the slide, grabbed a beer, and rode off into the sunset. That’s some killer shit. The fact that he’s obviously gay makes it much more fun to replay in your mind. Is he a hero? To some people that are stuck in a shit job and wish they could do what he did…he is.

    I’m not a stickler for semantics. I hate people that play that game. I’m that guy that’ll say something…someone will try to correct me…and then I’ll stare at them angrily with that “You know what the fuck I mean” look until they slowly crawl away. (My rage > than your grammar).Words mean different things to different people, especially in a country as large and diverse as this. Language belongs to the people that speak it…not to the people that write the dictionary. Language is defined by culture and is a constantly evolving form of communication. As cultures and classes meld, certain words become more general purpose and some have different levels of meaning.

    You can take the word “hero” and apply it to a lot of different people. Some sacrificed a lot more than others. So should we call them “Hero Mark 1″ and “Hero Mark 2″ graduating to “Superhero First Class” Do we need to put different heroes in classes? How far do we take the meaning of certain words?

    Think about this: Osama Bin Laden is a hero. Hitler is a hero. A working mom is a hero. Homer Simpson is a hero. A sandwich is a hero.

    The word means almost anything. It’s the context around that word that defined by the person that speaks it that creates that word’s true meaning.

    That’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it.

    • I’m not so much a stickler for semantics in my day-to-day discussions with people — though, that said, some people use “semantics” as a way to get out of a poorly-made argument — but I’m a big stickler for people using the right words when it’s Out There in the Big Wide World. Like, say, in media. We have words for a reason, and they have to mean something. Otherwise, nothing means anything, and everything means nothing. To communicate, we use words, and to have that communication matter, their definitions must apply.

      To me, language is flexible — it bends, but shouldn’t break.

      Bigger problem, though: the news shouldn’t be calling anyone a hero. That’s subjective. Journalism — in a perfect world, meaning no world that exists — should be objective. Leave editorializing to its own separate — well-lit and duly identified — corner.

      – c.

  • I think a lot of people just want a hero. And who are they going to turn to? A politician? A pro athlete? An actor? A writer? An artist? No one wants to admit a cop might be a hero. People have grown bored with firefighters. And not only do they want a hero, they want a little spectacle to go along with it. I certainly wouldn’t call Slater a hero, but if his showboating way of quitting his job scratches the itch for other folks, no skin off my nose.

    Now, the misuse of victim, and victim mentality, that irks me no end.

  • @Rick

    I am currently translating a book where they use the word “networking”. I realised that we have multiple words for networking in Polish, because we do not put anything under manager-speak umbrella terms. My research shows that any manager-speak is actually English. We could use “przełożony”, but we use “menadżer”.

    It’s stone cold retarded and basically guarantees that this book will never sound as good as I want it.

    Oh, and the author uses the word “Indeed” so haphazardly and ubiquitously it no longer means anything to me.

  • The problem is of paucity of vocabulary: we don’t have good words other than “hero” to express “hey this dude’s awesome”. And that’s how the term gets watered down, because if “hero” is the only word you have, then the actual definition is meaningless, you’re just arguing degrees-of-awesome like Paul describes. And then you’re left in the position where if you say, “Slater’s not a hero” you basically have to argue “Slater sucks” because that’s the only disqualifier anymore for hero-dom. (Hero-hood?)

    I think I’m going to make myself unpopular here, but Sully’s not a hero either. Don’t get me wrong, I admire the guy. He’s extremely skilled, graceful under fire, scrupulously honest, and quite a gentleman; and we’d be better off with one Sully than a thousand Slaters, but that’s still using “hero” to mean “awesome” and we already have a word for “awesome”. Going back to what Chuck quoted,
    “A man distinguished by exceptional courage and nobility and strength; a champion: someone who fights for a cause.”
    That doesn’t really fit. He’s a hell of a lot more awesome than Slater, and a class act to boot, but heroism isn’t really a “you must be this awesome to ride this ride” thing. But I think that the core aspect of heroism is the opportunity to say “no way, fuck this shit, I’m not going in there.” For all his considerable skill, Sully didn’t really have the chance to bail out after the birdstrike, it was do-or-die.

    And as a blanket term, “hero” can be a disservice, a way of writing off virtues that ought to be in our grasp. It’s almost a dismissive term sometimes. I listed off the virtues that came to mind when I thought about Sullenberger: skilled, graceful, honest, gentlemanly. Except maybe ‘skilled’, none of those are outside my grasp (ok, apparently ‘honest’ is too). But when I get to say, “oh, he’s a hero” that’s a way of letting myself off the hook on those other things, because when *I* have the opportunity to say “no way, fuck this this, I’m not going in there,” it’ll be closely followed with, “I’m no hero.”

    • On Sully:

      He probably doesn’t fit the definition, not in terms of landing the plane. (Though I’ll add that I’m more comfortable calling *him* a hero because, y’know, actual lives were on the line — one could make the argument that it took a strength of skill and the courage to make a risky choice to land that plane the way he did.) Alternately, he probably does fit the “hero” definition because he fights for pilot rights and salaries.

      As opposed to Steven Slater, who fought for… what? Himself?

      – c.

  • We Americans have skewed the word “hero” for a few centuries though. Look at John Henry, born with a hammer in his hand. Why was he a hero? Because he did his job to the best of his abilities. (Swinging a hammer.) Instead of promoting him to supervisory manager or some shit, he’s a Hero.

    Paul Bunyun, a big rotund baby that required three storks to carry him, was able to swing an axe and take out ten trees at once. He has his own day, his own town, etc.

    But personally, I blame the Justice League for the modern abuse of the word. I mean, it’s a country club for “Heroes.” They probably have a crap Monte Cristo, to boot.

    The word that absolutely makes me CRINGE because it’s become something it isn’t is IMPACT. Jesus Christ, the abuse of that word! People 99.9% of the time mean AFFECT not impact. Or impacted. Impacted refers to shit in your colon or a tooth jammed in your skull. Impactfully? I might cut a bitch if that’s used within slicing distance.

    AFFECT. AFFECT!!! Gah.

  • The word “literally”. I don’t know if it’s as overused in English, but in French, it’s badly used to the bone.
    One example: “In this hockey game, Boston literally crushed the Canadiens de Montreal!”
    NO, they just had more points, they didn’t stomped on them until all their bones broke into a inhuman pulp!

  • If we’re going to descend into pet peeves, nothing rankles more than hearing “male” or “female” used as nouns. They are fucking adjectives. It is only supreme idiocy and laziness that has allowed them to be co-opted as nouns.

    It’s not an error of arcane, intellectual ignorance, like “begging the question” (RIP). Slope-browed morons have two perfectly common, simple, obvious, and *correct* words for “male human being” and “female human being”: MAN and WOMAN. These are some of the most ordinary words we know. Any illiterate simpleton has heard those two words thousands and thousands of time in early life. There is no excuse for bastardizing “male” and “female” to refer to men and women. It’s bald stupidity and should be given no quarter!

    Also, “elite”, usually in a military context. The 82nd Airborne Division is not fucking elite, nor are 99% of the other units you hear described in that way. There are maybe three or four elite U.S. military units: SEALs, Delta Force, Air Force pararescue, and Marine Force Recon, and I’m not so sure about the SEALs and Marines. Describe any other military unit as “elite”, including my former band of brothers, and I can’t roll my eyes hard enough.

    I’ll clean up after my spleen in a few minutes.

  • Reductionism. Now the word, the problem. Everything has to be simplified, everything described in as- holy shit, it’s the moral from the Breakfast Club. Everything “in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions.”

    The world contains only a “Them” and an “Us,” and if you are not with Us, you are with Them. The same problem is obvious in movies, in society, the Religion vs Science thing (can we really call it a debate? Isn’t that just stretching the definition of debate?), everything must be as simple as possible, and this is what leads to the widening of definitions so that feel-good words apply to as wide a group as the storyteller wants, or feel-bad words, too. So, if we want to feel good about someone, they are heroes, whether their actions are mundane, grandiose, amusing, honorable or whatever.

    So maybe it’s too difficult a reference for the media these days, but maybe what they really want to say about that guy is they think he’s just “double-plus good.”

    Really, don’t we all just want to be double-plus good?

  • Words that have lost most of their meaning in modern American English:
    Intellectual – this should not be used perjoratively
    Irony – the true irony is that no one knows how to use this word
    Literally – no, you did not literally shit your pants when you heard that bad news

    Piggybacking on Kate for the next two:
    Apocalypse – I believe that eschaton is the word you’re blindly groping for
    Elegant – THIS WORD MEANS UNUSUALLY SIMPLE AND EFFECTIVE! High quality, expensive goods are often elegant, but the two should not be conflated. A vintage Rolex is elegant, but an Audemars Piguet is simply expensive since it’s covered in diamonds.

    I also hate the word “irregardless.”

  • Here’s an over-abused word: Genius. These days, it doesn’t take much to be a genius. Wrote a book? Genius. Made a movie? Genius. Work at an Apple Store? Genius. Let’s be honest here, all of the above can barely be considered “genius” by any real standard. Genius requires knowledge, skill and the ability to think beyond what is characteristically “normal”. It requires being able to express the mundane in an extraordinary fashion. It requires vision. In other words, it requires something people like Dan Brown and the moron in the black shirt with a white apple don’t have.

    Another term that’s being misused, mainly by the movie industry for their ads is “Triumph!” Basically, if it did well at the box office, it’s a triumph. The problem with that reasoning is that even something as insipid as Scary Movie could be known as a “triumph”. This thought actually came to me while I was watching TV, and then comes an ad for Twilight: New Moon (or whatever the crap it was subtitled as) being hailed as “a triumph!” by some unnamed critic. The question in my head that popped up was “Are they seriously putting this drivel in the same category as The Dark Knight?”.

    There are some parts of arguing semantics where I can agree can be left alone, but when stupid as shit logic hits, I think it’s one of those instances where painting with shotguns becomes a necessity.

  • I don’t necessarily agree that all words have to mean something specific. I think it’s more important that the person using the word is able to identify it’s meaning when explaining something. Surely the word in question most adhere to basic criteria of meaning, but it’s subjective in a lot of ways. This is why I like certain authors more than others.

    I will agree that the media shouldn’t be slinging words around for sensationalism…but that’s what the masses identify these days.

    Say you have 50 people that decide to move and live on an island. 45 of them are simple high-school grads and the other 5 are highly educated language PHD’s. If the 45 high school grads start using a word and decide it’s generally accepted meaning is adequate…it doesn’t matter what those other 5 people say. They aren’t going to be able to convince the others that they’re wrong. It’s time to accept that language has evolved.

    I think that the Internet has completely smashed the English language…melding and fusing local dialects and terms together. Then you have terms that go viral: “Doh”, “Shizzle”, and others that had no meaning until the masses decided on an acceptable range of use based on the foundation of it’s original use.

    There’s a movie line that I always think of when I see these types of discussions: “Luke, you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.” I think that’s relative in this conversation.

    Then again…I’m a simple philosopher trespassing on a writer’s holy ground. That leads me to a question…should a dictionary be a writer’s bible or should it merely be a reference? I would think that a thesaurus would be more important when choosing the proper way to communicate to an audience.

    • @Paul:

      Again, I’m willing to accept language as flexible. Language plays nicely with metaphor, it bends with gentle use, it lets you play. But what’s happening with words like “hero” or “victim” or any of the others listed is that it’s not so much that the definition is shifting — there’s no metaphor, no bending — it’s simply being watered down because:

      a) The media doesn’t really give a shit and likes to give stories more “oomph.”

      b) People are basically too dumb to recognize it.

      I like new words. I like modifying old words. But I don’t like taking definitions and muddying them until they’re as still and murky as an unperturbed broth. I like words to have meaning, to have a point.

      For the record, I don’t trust the “45 people versus 5″ comparison exactly — I’m not against the common man, but the common man is not the arbiter of language. Or, at least, we shouldn’t let him be. The common man shouldn’t be the arbiter of any academic field, and language for all its dynamism and possibility, is still guided in part and in principle by academics. Same way science is — and I’d want it no other way.

      Oh, and writers (generally) should avoid thesauruses — use the language that comes to mind, not the purple prose the thesaurus suggests. Further, the dictionary is very helpful: make sure you know the meaning of the words you’re using.

      – c.

  • Paul DeLaurentis wrote:

    “Say you have 50 people that decide to move and live on an island. 45 of them are simple high-school grads and the other 5 are highly educated language PHD’s. If the 45 high school grads start using a word and decide it’s generally accepted meaning is adequate…it doesn’t matter what those other 5 people say. They aren’t going to be able to convince the others that they’re wrong. It’s time to accept that language has evolved.”

    I’ve always enjoyed reading David Foster Wallace’s gentle assault on the kernal of descriptivism in Paul’s quote above:

    “We’ve now sort of bled into a more serious rejoinder to Philosophical Descriptivism: From the fact that linguistic communication is not strictly dependent on usage and grammar it does not necessarily follow that the traditional rules of usage and grammar are nothing but “inconsequential decorations.” Another way to state the objection is that just because something is “decorative” does not necessarily make it “inconsequential.” Rhetorically, Pinker’s flip dismissal is bad tactics, for it invites the very question it begs: inconsequential to whom?” – David Foster Wallace, “Democracy, English, and Wars Over Usage”, Harper’s, 2001

    The full text of Wallace’s essay can be found here: http://instruct.westvalley.edu/lafave/DFW_present_tense.html

  • Words I want to reclaim? Lessee… Legendary, Epic, Elite. People don’t use them right and only make themselves into asses when they try. The few who do? I’ll lease rights to them.

    War. Yeah. I’d really like to reclaim the word war.

    Justice. Righteousness.

    Socialist.

    And also wangledangle, because it’s fun to say.

  • Man, I could not agree with this more. Beyond that, a guy I used to date worked at a movie theatre and CONSTANTLY COMPLAINED about his job and how awful it was compared to the jobs the rest of us worked. It was the only job he’d ever had and he assumed that movie-goers were the worst folks on earth and…this is rapidly becoming a tangent.

    Something that I see people mis-use a lot in my online circles is “literate.” The internet says literate means “able to read or write” – but among play-by-post roleplayers, it means “You can write like Tolkien and spit out sixteen paragraphs of bullshit at a moments notice and obviously must be a SEASONED, yet-to-be-published writer.”

    Every time I see someone request for “literate” players I want to respond with. “I can read this, I can write, so I can play!”

  • That jet-blue guy, not a hero, not even admirable to me. Amusing, yes, but that’s as far as it goes.

    I’m married to a real hero, as I understand the word. The saved-anothers-life-at-his-own-risk type of heroes.

    He’s a correctional officer. I give him props just for doing one of the worst jobs in the world. Whenever someone mentions heroes though, I immediately think of him and what he did one day.

    An inmate had managed to grab a female officer and drag her into his cell where he proceeded to stab her repeatedly with a shank. My husband was one of the first responders. Other officers with more time and experience froze on the spot. My husband had the ability to call in the CERT team, and once that happened, went into the cell after his fellow officer. The only reason why the officer was still alive was because of her stab vest which the inmate had been trying to get off so he could get to more vital areas (and thank goodness that inmates are stupid on the whole at times – because if he had thought to go for the head…).

    It took my husband three days to come out of mental shock – I don’t know what else to call it. It took months for him to return to semi-normalcy. That incident affected him profoundly.

    That’s how I define hero, and anyone that cannot measure up to the standard set by my husband, not a hero. I am quite biased.

  • A hero is either a sandwich or akin to a first responder. Slater: not a hero. Role model for some people, sure, though I dunno why. (Yes, the idea of sliding down an inflatable slide with beers akimbo plays to the “fuck you!” juvenile side, which does have some appeal that way, but I’m not impressed in the slightest. What WOULD have impressed me is the ejection of the troublesome passenger in such a way that you could visualize the tickertape parade everyone would throw for Slater.)

    So. Overused words that chafe my britches:
    “Literally”
    - I will shank a bitch over this. Ditto with “irregardless”; don’t tell me that it’s okay just because the other boys and girls are doing it. Vox populi is just like Billy Shakes said: full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. YOU ARE BETTER THAN THAT SO TALK LIKE IT. Or else.

    “Love”
    - No. Unless you are expressing an emotion you feel for a person or animal of your acquaintance, it is NOT “love.” Maybe that movie was really awesome. Maybe that was the best steak dinner of your life. Maybe that scotch really did obscenely wonderful things to your tongue and gave your stomach an afterglow you won’t forget. It’s still not love. (I still fall prey to this one on occasion; I get lazy. Bad, bad me.)

    - Socialism/communism(-ist)
    Has been abused in the past, but recently it’s been beaten beyond recognition. People who fucking remember the Cold War, or at least Ronnie Raygun, have been firing this word out at anything that moves. It’s gotten so that it’s interchangeable with “liberal” or “elite.” Mao and Stalin are shitting their undead pants with glee. Palin seems to have lost her subscription to the Word of the Month Club, because now she’s making them up and putting “socialist” on a loop. Get that woman a fucking dictionary NOW, because the English language, though used to rough trade, is not used to sadomasochism on this scale.

  • My word?

    TRAGEDY.

    I don’t like seeing it used for any damn sad thing that happens. No. I went to Uni for Theatre – we learned that the words Comedy and Tragedy are time-honoured and holy words, that express very specific yet very encompassing ideals, much like Romantic and Classical, or Apollonian and Dionysian. Tragedy means a whole bunch of things, but it does NOT mean sad kitties or a burned-up house.

    As I said in a paper I wrote on the subject: “A death is not a tragedy. A car crash is not a tragedy; unless that car was being driven by Oedipus, to Delphi, hoping for better news.”

  • Husband of Mrs. Chucky wrote:

    “For the record, I don’t trust the “45 people versus 5″ comparison exactly — I’m not against the common man, but the common man is not the arbiter of language. Or, at least, we shouldn’t let him be. The common man shouldn’t be the arbiter of any academic field, and language for all its dynamism and possibility, is still guided in part and in principle by academics. Same way science is — and I’d want it no other way.”

    Damn it, man, if you didn’t read the Wallace essay I linked above, you are wasting time. You and the essay are practically making out in your wheelhouse.

  • On the Green Lantern forums this guy told us a story about his last day at work. He drove delivery trucks for the company and apparently had a huge argument with his boss about how he was supposed to work on one day even though the guy swore he did not. He cussed his boss out over the phone and was surprised when he showed up Monday to find he didn’t have a job anymore. To pay back his boss he took his keys, got in his old delivery truck, and smashed it into a light pole. He said that his coworkers were giving him high fives while his boss was trying to call the police.

    What got me was that people were congratulating him on the forum even though he had destroyed company property and he was at fault. If he felt he had been fired unfairly, he should have gone over his managers head or secured a lawyer. But people were congratulating him for destroying a light pole and damaging his truck? I just couldn’t believe it.

    I’ve been told I was a hero several times in my life but the time I’m most proud of is going to bat for several clients of mine who didn’t have SSN even though they really needed the help. I was later shut out of the help process for them but I did my best to find them some help for their kids during Christmas.

  • My point in the 45 vs. 5 argument is that the common man ultimately rules. Either by politics or by force. It’s akin to having 5 cop trying to stop an unruly mob…there’s not much those cops can do but sit back and watch the town burn.

    I wrote a ridiculous faux tabletop RPG for some reason a long time back. The player classes were based on internet forum personalities. One of them was the “Grammar Nazi” and was one of my favorites.

    Grammar Nazi:
    The Grammar Nazi has spent years studying his language and the proper use of it. While the common man has no problem communicating with one another, the Grammar Nazi is horrified by their use of his beloved language and can’t understand how society continues to function. He is easily frustrated because in spite of all of his education on the subject, no one can understand a damn thing he’s saying. Is this Irony? He’ll surely correct you if it’s not. I’m sure I misused a comma here…that drives him insane. He is easy to fuck with. He secretly envies the both deaf and blind.

    Passive Stats:
    The Grammar Nazi receives a +3 for his great intelligence and a -3 for his terrible charisma. Because it takes him fucking forever to say the simplest of phrases, he receives a -2 penalty to all spell-casting rolls.

    Unique Spells:
    Look of Disapproval: The Grammar Nazi glares icily as his opponent tries to taunt him using broken English. This is a defensive spell and may be used once during each turn to add +2 to saving rolls.

    Wall of Text: The Grammar Nazi unleashes a torrent of unwanted and unintelligible grammar correction. This spell confuses all opponents within listening range and does one of the following: Adds 3 damage to an allies successful attack, or it may add +3 to an allies saving throw. This spell can only be use once every 3 turns per ally.

    Racial enemies: Forum Troll; Texting Teenager

    I hope this amuses. If it doesn’t…fuck it. I like it.

  • Hmm. The 45 v. 5 argument has some teeth, but I think we’re missing the point here. I don’t think the problem is with common usage of a word, the creation of new words or even the redefinition of old ones. For example:

    Common usage: “awesome” used to be used to describe things of awe-inspiring magnitude… mountain ranges, grand vistas or profound pageantry. Once it became a common exclamation, it redefined itself somewhat. It still means “capable of creating a sense of awe”, but the underlying definition of awe is dulled down to mean any form of appreciation. Sure, I’d like to see awesome banished back to it’s original meaning, but it’s common now and when used in the proper context, can still mean what it used to.

    New words: “Cromulent” is now in the dictionary. Look it up. Read up on where it came from. The irony is delicious and also part of the definition. In technical, medical and scientific circles, words are often combined to identify new concepts. Perfectly cromulent examples of the language flexing to incorporate new ideas.

    Redefinition: A notebook was once a bunch of paper bound for the purposes of taking notes. With the advent of portable computers, notebooks became larger-sized portable computers, usually configured with a folding screen and keyboard. “Notebook” got repurposed, but did not loose its original meaning.

    No, where we have to start taking back words is when they are used in ways that are directly opposite of the meaning. For example, “hero”. A hero is a person or character inside a culture who reflects the values of that culture in word and deeds. People on this thread have invoked several, but Sully jumps to mind. Firefighters are heroes because they put aside personal consideration for the benefit of others, usually in very dangerous situations. Selfless, brave and strong. Good hero stuff we’d like more of in our society. Sully is a hero of a different sort, exhibiting grace under pressure and professionalism above the norm. Calm, cool, collected and ultimately modest. More good hero stuff and things we’d like to see more of in our culture.

    Slater isn’t a hero. He lost his cool, became insulting, stole material from his (former) workplace and expended safety equipment inappropriately. He’s petty and has a bad temper. He doesn’t have the professionalism to change career in a mature manner. He put himself above others to serve his own needs and is now abusing the minor celebrity status he has to aggrandize his actions. He’s a dick.

    Do I enjoy reading about folks who blow their stack and leave a job in a creative and cathartic way? Sure, we all have those fantasies when we hold less-than-deal jobs. Do I think he has a set of balls on him? Sure, who would do what he did? can I appreciate the panache of his exit? Sure thing, the stuff of movies. Does that make him a hero? Fuck no, all it makes him is momentarily interesting.

    And that’s where the word gets spoiled. It’s used to define the exact opposite of what it is, warping perceptions of what is truly heroic and altering the meaning in ways that can’t even be stretched to fit. This is why the 45 v. 5 argument doesn’t hold up in its entirety. Unless, of course, our society wants to adopt the values of poor anger resolution, rudeness, inconsideration and theft as heroic values. then it’s being used properly and I’m overdue to move to another country.

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