On Language

It’s always bugged me that there was no official name for the weird patch of fur that some guys keep under their bottom lip.

Until now. Merriam-Webster released a sampling of the 100 new words admitted this year into its offical record of the English language. Soul Patch was among them. Some of the others: mouse potato, ringtone, spyware, avian influenza, biodiesel, gastric bypass, soul patch, supersize, labelmate (including the Label Baby Junior?), drama queen, and unibrow.

What’s the point? Language is part of our identity, and having “official” words to describe who we are, what we do and how we interact are essential. I just finished reading a piece by David Graeber. that I found on Language Hat that details a strange custom in Madagascar. Apparently–and I believe I’ve read about this happening in other post-colonial places–the native language is used to communicate while the colonial language, French, is used to command. Highly recommended, and a quick read. Find the whole thing here (PDF). The idea is that language is used as an instrument of power, both socially and politically. Think of the way language is used in propaganda posters (not the BK/CP&B ones below). Think of the way the single word–accompanied by an image with innumerable emotional associations–galvanized an entire nation.

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In advertising, language is our currency. The words we choose in a creative brief, the words, themes and inspirations that go into and come out of our advertising, the words spoken by a customer service representative…all vitally important. So thank you, Merriam-Webster, for these new words. Not that we wouldn’t have made up new ones on our own.

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