According to a count performed by Google and Harvard in 2010, there were 1,022,000 words in the English language with an estimated 8,500 words added each year. The average speaker, however, only knows anywhere from 12,000 to 21,000 words. And though that still seems like a lot, we manage to mangle, twist and abuse certain words until they not only lose their original meaning, but appear to have lost all meaning whatsoever.
If these words were leaves, they would have directly bypassed being dried out and brittle, lying on the ground for any old user to pick up and twirl around. Instead, they were deposited into the gutter and, through overuse, become a moldy, muddy, indecipherable goop that prevents the language from moving forward.
They are the words people resort to when they actually have nothing to say, usually when “you’re having just too much fun” or when it’s time to define insanity for everyone all over again. (This phrase, that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results” is both the definition and cause of my own insanity.)
That is why, every couple of years, I contract myself out to the English language, cleaning out this meaningless morass in hopes that those who resort to them will find new words. (Or say nothing at all.) Here’s what I found in the gutters for 2013.
Original Definition: A prima donna, which is either the lead singer of an opera or a bitch who refuses to work under direction or with a team. This has evolved to also apply to glamorous female pop stars. It is literally the Italian word for “goddess,” so that should indicate just how much baggage this term comes with. (Which you’re carrying, by the way.)
Current Meaning: A woman.
For a word with such a negative meaning, it’s bizarre that anyone would want to call themselves a diva. Perhaps it was originally appropriated by strong women who, after being called one, decided to show those peasants what a bitch really looks like.
Now, however? It’s something inside of every woman, waiting to be unearthed through zumba classes, New Age Christian bulls–t and “having it all.” Divas are known to eat chocolate, drink wine, own a set of ovaries and pretty much anything else that women say they enjoy to avoid arousing suspicions at their secret diva meetings.
Basically, if there are as many divas on Earth as licence plates on Mazda Miatas claim, then we are living in a new glorious age of modern Roman mythology.
Original Definition: The act of influencing or suggesting opinions to others, often by implied divine means. Also, to breathe in, because what isn’t more inspirational than living between exhales?
Current Definition: Anything you read, hear, see or talk about with someone other than your cats … Actually, you know what? F–k that. Pets are inspirational, too.
Because we’ve set the threshold for achievement so low, it takes even less effort to be inspired or inspirational. Related to divas above, it took originally nothing short of the work of a god to get your ass up and working on a work.
And we’re not talking about putting together a spreadsheet or mowing the lawn types of work — those don’t require emotion. (Well, except when you do either passive-aggressively. Then I suppose resentment is an emotion.) No, inspiration is supposed to spur creativity, not why you put margarine on your bagel instead of cream cheese so you can lose some weight.
To put this simply: if your dad inspired you to go into accounting, then either your dad is considered by his peers as the Greatest Accountant of All Time …
… or you have mistaken inspiration with the cruel machinations of fate and its hereditary nature. Which do you think is more likely?
Original Definition: Food that is considered rare or luxurious. Other uses imply that one appreciates this food due to their refined and discriminating taste.
Current Meaning: Weird food that you’re too lazy to explain to disgusted people.
While, yes, caviar, lobster and foie gras are all disgusting when you really think about them, they originally earned this distinction by being expensive and rare. And even that was sort of manufactured because lobster was at one point so common (in both abundance and taste) that servants had to beg not to eat it more than three times a week and serving it to prisoners more than once a week was considered cruel and unusual punishment.
So, we don’t get to call hot dogs or horse meat delicacies just because it’s easier than actually learning why people eat it. Andrew Zimmern doesn’t get to explain away his abhorrent internal food hording by claiming everything he eats is a delicacy. If rooster balls are such a rare commodity, then how come farmers get to be choosy about which ones they use to make future chickens? The same goes with any animal we’ve devised a spray to destroy en masse, like snails, ants and pigeons. (What? You don’t spray the pigeons in your yard with wasp spray?)
Taking any food out of its traditional context doesn’t make it a delicacy. It just makes it weird and exotic. And stuffing two other ordinary animals into yet another ordinary animal (looking your way, turducken) isn’t the brain child of the finest culinary mind. It’s what happens when a frustrated chef snaps at home whenever he asks his wife what she wants for dinner and she responds, “I don’t know.”
If you have to describe your country’s food habits as delicacies to foreigners, then it’s time to admit that, really, you’ll eat anything. And maybe that’s why this word has merely replaced “decadence,” because ‘splaining the Doritos Locos Taco wastes valuable eatin’ time.