Raise your hand if you remember a few years back when every person in America with a TV set was wandering around pointing at objects and exclaiming, “That’s hot!” Yes, folks, thanks to the great wordsmith Paris Hilton, America had a new catchphrase.
Today, I was sitting in one of those spectacular vibrating chairs, getting a pedicure, and flipping through US WEEKLY, noticing a significant lack of Paris Hilton. Not that I miss her. It just struck me that she’s not making as many appearances in the pages of my favorite gossip magazines as she used to. “That’s sexy!” didn’t catch on the way “That’s hot!” did, and the poor girl hasn’t been engaged in weeks. Maybe (gasp!) months.
Anyway, an hour later, I was sitting on the couch at home with my three-year-old daughter watching Schoolhouse Rock. We were singing along to “Interjections!” and at the appropriate moment, we both sung out “Hooray!”
It occured to me at that moment that you just don’t hear “hooray” as much as you used to. And I started wondering, do words actually go in or out of style?
I think they do.
Thanks to Candace Bushnell and books on the front table sporting designer shoes and bubblegum pink covers, “fabulous” has reached it’s peak of popularity. “Cool” was cool for awhile, and then it became uncool, and now, I think it might be cool again. I’ll have to check with my 16- and 14-year-old nieces, Lizzy and Cassie to be sure. (As I, sadly, am too uncool to know for sure.)
“Swell” wasn’t cool for thirty years, until a couple of smart women attached it to funky dishtowels and martini shakers, and suddenly “swell” was swell again.
Cigarettes used to be “fags” , “gay” used to be happy. Still is, I guess, although one meaning now drastically overshadows the other one.
And I had many, many discussions with my agent about whether or not the main character in my novel, Fifteen Minutes of Shame would say “crap!” or something a little stronger. (Really.) My thinking was that she’d say crap because 1) she’s Southern, and 2) “crap” in my opinion, is the most genteel of all the swear words. My agent, on the other hand, was older than me by about twenty years, and from NYC; She thought “crap” was passé.
New words come into favor or existance because we need them, and try as you might, you’ll never find an acceptable substitute for “boy toy” or “spamming” or “High Fructose Corn Syrup” in Ye Olde English dictionary.
I am fond of words. I like running across an old favorite I haven’t used in a while, like “serendipity” or “effervescent” or “flatulance”. Some words simply go out of style because they are mean, or degrading, and we as a society have managed to learn another lesson about the power of our words to influence or hurt. We put these words to rest intentionally.
But what about words like “swell”? Or “goober”? Or “Dy-no-mite!” Why do these words lose their charm?