Who Killed Jogging?
If words did not change more people would actually understand Shakespeare than pretend to. In the Age of Acceleration, things change at the drop of a tense. The iPad I am touching right now juices and crib kills ideas, relationships and movements -and words- at the light thump of a zillion screen-taps.
But there are words that have not gone the way of perchance, spittoon or flapper – they have withered and died not because we have ceased to use or do the things they describe. They are dying or dead because somehow we have collectively emoted the good vibe for how different words convey how we feel about ourselves.
This is not about Correctness, nor is it about the withering of pretense and affect in favor of simple language, this is about linguistic narcissism – we want to use words that pretend we are who we want to be and are actually doing what we wish we were doing.
In making a verbal Fun House mirror that distorts meaning to comport with our best hopes about who we are, some words effectively kill other words:
Jogging has been killed by Running. Back in the depths of the 20th century, I was an athlete. Athletes would get better by “running” – knees were up, arms pumped, forward body lean, full-on aerobic depletion. Non-athletes “jogged” – knees slightly bent, arms slightly moving, dead vertical posture, heavy breathing, but no distress.
Jogging helped prevent heart attacks without immediately wrecking your knees. You jogged to burn off that banana split. Now everyone “runs” and no one “jogs”. Very fat people, very old people, the very unathletic people (who do it once every few weeks) “run”.
But if you Old School ran as a fat person, you would be a wreck for weeks after, as the stress of your bulk would make tendons and muscles strain to the point of damage. Very annuated folk like me can easily die by Old School running.
But it feels better to say you “ran” 4 miles in an hour. The worst high school track athlete runs 4 miles in 30 minutes…but we now “run” if we move faster than “power walking” (something that seems to have ceased to exist – in spite of the effective hype of Dan Ackroyd in Dr. Detroit.)
Feminism/Feminist has been killed by Equality/Equity. Whether it was “herstory” trying to muscle out “history”, or “womyn” proffered for “women” – or Limbaugh coining ” Feminazi”, the words ” I am not a raging” now seem to always preface the word “feminist”. I did not know a woman in the 1980’s who would not describe herself as a feminist. Now that word is self-parodying.
It’s not fashion or politics, we are made uncomfortable when words inaccurately render us radicals when all we feel are simple truths. Feminism meant too much, it determined who you were with sweeping generalizations – but equal pay for equal work, equal opportunity, gender equality are unarguably clear (and limited) in their values. Having said that, “Ms.” is a very convenient compensation for marriage-status ignorance.
Efficient has been killed by Sustainable. Whereas “jogging” and “feminist” were trendy temp’s in the word world, replaced by words that they replaced, “Efficient” is the essence of the Green Movement without the morality. To be efficient used to be morally unambiguous. Spending less was a good thing. But now it’s not enough to be efficient – expending less is inadequate when you can expend less and do good – and be sustainable.
Now doing the right thing, even if it has to cost more, is what we aspire to – or at least we are told we should aspire to. But the 6 year economic discomfort we have all experienced may once again make spending less more important than being sustainable.
Contemporary has been killed by Modern. It used to be hip for non-architects to feel on the crest of cultural cool – to be contemporary – in homes it meant anti-history, anti-ornament, anti-color scheme – it was white, light and space.
But it is now inadequate to be contemporary, it is too limited to be at the edge of expectation, we seem to want to be at the tugging edge of cool, to be Modern. A Modern house has a wow factor that is simply not hype-able by the description “Contemporary.” And “Contemporary” as a house style is now pure Brady Bunch.
More and more real estate agents run away from the “C” word as it means leaks, rot, glare and cracks – Modern houses are too newly built to suffer the adolescent traumas of a flat-roofed, trimless and plate glass upbringing.
Words reflect reality, or we are babbling. But reality is not static – we are aspirational, we want to be better. The words we use can force others to recognize that we “get it”. We can all be athletic if we “run”, on moral high ground if we proclaim “equality” as a value, be smart when we live “sustainably” and cool if we are “modern”.
But since we write our own language it does not reform us, it merely reflects who we are, or want to be. The gap between reality and desire is what makes progress part of our genetic, hard-wired reality – but the words we use are not a self-help program.
Words do not create the state we desire – you can be out of shape, despite “running”, morally evolving even when favoring “equality”‘, an SUV is never as “sustainable” as a compact car, and “Modern” is a style, not a lifestyle…
Words matter, but they are, in the end, just words.