No, I’m not going to complain about neologisms such as “yeet,” which are actually useful, even if I do have to look them up in the Urban Dictionary. Instead, I have some things to say about recent words I’ve encountered that make little sense to me or that I have misread as something else entirely. I find these words perplexing, for a variety of reasons.
One I encountered recently is “sewist,” which is easy to mistake for “sexist” if you’re skimming (or typing, if you’re very bad at it). I think it is an attempt to replace the possibly-problematic-gender-wise “seamstress.” You can’t just retrofit it to “seamster,” I guess, in the way that “actress” has been. (I must admit that it is still difficult for me to refer to Angelina Jolie or Maggie Smith as an actor. I suppose I’ll get used to it, though it’s going to take me a while. But I digress.) There’s always “sewer,” I suppose, though that’s as unlikely to catch on as “sewist,” probably because, pronounced differently, it already has an entrenched (sorry not sorry) meaning.
I must point out that there is another, already existing, term that conveys the same content in an equally nonsexist manner: “fabric artist.” Admittedly, it does have the drawback of being two words and four syllables, which is difficult for speakers to handle in this fast-paced modern world. But the term also conveys the idea of someone skilled in making beautiful things (as well as useful ones) in a way that “sewist” just doesn’t.
The next candidate for Worst New Word is “sanism,” which I thought at first was shorthand (or a mistyping) of “satanism.” After reading further in the passage, I realized that “sanism” was one of the many “-ism” words that refer to offensive, discriminatory practices – like ageism, sexism, lookism (not kidding), racism, colorism (which is different from racism), ableism, and the like.
“Sanism” refers to the oppressive dominance of sanity, over what or whom, I’m still trying to determine. Surely not insanity, which is, these days, a legal term (not guilty by reason of) and not one that should be used to refer to people with mental health issues. Perhaps it refers to the presumption that everyone is sane until proven otherwise, which sounds to me like another class (sorry not sorry) of privilege.
Perusing Merriam-Webster’s words that were added to the dictionary in 2021, one comes across “copypasta” (which does not refer to stealing recipes); “teraflop” (which is not an unsuccessful dinosaur); “halotherapy” (which is not a religious term); “hard pass” (which is not a football term); and “gig worker” (which is not someone who spears frogs).
Of course, none of these may catch on the way “truthiness” did after it was introduced on The Stephen Colbert Show. It was just so darn useful, and resonated with those observing the political scene in 2020, when M-W noticed the word.
One other word that has been resurrected this year, though not with its previous meaning, is “oobleck.” This, of course, was coined by the illustrious Dr. Seuss (one of my first (and still) all-time favorite authors) in Bartholomew and the Oobleck, where it referred to a kind of goopy green snow. Now it means a substance made from cornstarch and water that behaves like a solid at times and like a liquid at others.
Personally, I approve. I think Dr. Seuss would have been proud. Or chuffed, if he were British.