The Insider’s Guide to Life: Fear and Loathing in the Thesaurus

ColumnAll the words in our language, and you have to keep using these?

Fresh. Fierce. Fabulous.


Curated. Edited.

The New York Times, smarting from such journalistic inanities, has compiled a list of the most overused words and phrases in fashion writing. (The Times suggests “culled” as the curated of 2011. I vote for “distilled.”)

In addition to those words listed above, the Times takes umbrage at “DIY fashion,” though they must be all right with upcycling (alas, better luck next year, Etsy).

Also popular in a paragraph near you, everyone’s favorite suffix: [Insert noun of choice] -ista. At this point, we’re pretty much anythingistas. Retroista, travelista, foodista, fashionista. It’s surely a bittersweet irony for Scrabbleistas.

Meanwhile, the paper says prefix aggravation came to us in 2010 by way of eco-. Eco-kill me. Ecoista? Now you’re really smoldering, hot pants.

The gray lady is probably right: it’s all gotten a bit redonk.

What are we, Cosmopolitan? When not even Vogue can spell Lafite correctly, I fear for the future of fashion media. (In September Vogue‘s defense, the misspelling was just a hop skip and a bullet point down from a sentence that actually, swear-to-Tyra, contained the words “freshly fierce”, which is clearly to blame for the subsequent “Lafitte.” It’s hard to recover from stupid, even if it is for champagne. I can’t confirm without risking yet another debilitating episode of PTSD, but I am 99% sure there was a certain other f-bomb in that sentence, as well.)

To wit, most holy loathing goes to the most overused word in fashion: Fabulous.

Whenever I hear the f-word oozing from someone’s mouth, I cringe. Lately it’s escalated to full-blown wincing. I’m like Powder; I can pretty much psychically detect when it’s about to be uttered, and I shudder in spasms of editorial pain. You can imagine the situation following the release of Kimora Lee Simmons’ book, Fabulosity.

No really, that scarf is fabulous? An organic diaper is fabulous? Biodegradable picnic plates are fabulous now? Pumpkin. Let me tell you about fabulous, and how not fucking fabulous scarves are. Fabulous is a nine-carat cocktail ring. Fabulous is a trip to the Caribbean on a private jet with the Italian guy you’ve known for five minutes which you’ll never tell your father about. Fabulous is gloves that aren’t safe brown, shoes that aren’t bunion comfortable and dinners that begin at 10 o’clock. That’s a fabulous life. I’m not saying it’s a good life or a moral life or that I’m living it, I’m just saying a scarf by any other adjective is still a square of fabric you wrap around your throat when it’s kinda cold.

Fabulous is not a new tea strainer. It is not a pair of “stylish” comfort shoes that look marginally acceptable enough for public display on weekends with cousins from the weird side of the family. I’ll tell you what else fabulous isn’t: fresh. Used improperly, which it always is, fabulous more closely resembles flab, or flan, or fanny, and bloat and lousy and other words with too much saliva for my tastes. Unless it’s being used to describe something stunningly not normal in any way, you’re just making everyone think the word “bulbous”. Please let’s quit ruining fabulous.

Fantastic isn’t much better than fabulous, but at least it has the advantage of being accurate. You could genuinely find a scarf fantastic, if you’ve just spent the last seven hours freezing your tears out in New York because the airline lost your luggage and you foolishly forgot to stuff that scarf in your carry-on, for example. It’s pretty fantastic to be warm. It’s still not fabulous, though.

There are other words, and classes of words – whole families and clans, in fact – for which I suffer my craft. Portmanteaus reside in a very special tundra in the Arctic-most nethers of my icy heart. For the recent admission of “shopitude,” I apologize to humanity. Someone let the cockles out on that one, and we’ve put them back in the cage where they belong (the cockles!). Portmanteaus are especially insidious; they’re the puns of our time. Let’s stop aggregating syllables and calling it original content. “Refudiate” and “strategery” can be forgiven because they were invented by special people and are only baby portmanteaux anyway, but grellow? Not a value-add.

There are some very nice words out there, like spectacular and lovely and brilliant and modern (as long as it’s not thoroughly or bracingly modern). But so far, deletion hasn’t come to nearly enough worn words. In honor of a new year for new media, and also because this is my post, I’ll start.

Vacay. Die. Die a blunted backspace death right along with info, meds, mod and delish.

Douchebag. Douche. Douchey. Wait for it: Douchebaggery. Every time someone says this from now on, I’m going to respond with “Yeah, what a tampon.” “So tampony.” “Hey guys, I call tamponigans.” (Breaking the portmanteau rule there, but I believe it’s justified.) Think about it, people. Jon Stewart dropping the d-bag every other sentence is not only sort of disgusting, it’s misogynistic in a casual way that makes the “pussy” of 90s popularity seem downright affectionate. Women who can “hang with the boys” say it now, but so do moms. Wow, us.

It’s Official. It’s official: We need to say this next to true things about as much as we need to say “literally”. Which is never.

Superlatives. The Strangest 23 Spoons Found in a Drawer! The 10 Wackiest Drawings by My Cat…This Week! The Boss’s Craziest Text Ever! Let’s give the -est a rest.

Fun with latinates. It’s converse and orient, not conversate and orientate. It’s delicious, not deliciousness. When did we start piling on the extra endings like an order of supersized poutine? How I yearn for six-pack verbs.

Jeggings. Oops, sorry! How on earth and the laws of physics did those manage to squeeze into this tiny little post? God only knows.

Pop of color. It’s simply incredible how good colors look on things. Walls, rooms, outfits, floral arrangements, websites, salads, fingernails, porches, bathrooms, cheeks, children, mantles, macarons, irises. A pop of color as opposed to no color really shakes up the sad ubiquity of blank, empty, invisible and clear we keep seeing everywhere, just running amok. You might wonder how we ever discovered that a pop of color is a good thing? Fact: we still haven’t, which is why we should be grateful to style writers everywhere, teaching us about this fabulously fabulous trick. Life looking a little bland? Spice it up with a pop of color!

Shortcuts by Rachael Ray™. She had me at EVOO – had me middling my brow, and I haven’t the Botox to face the show again. But I wouldn’t be surprised if ready-chopped garlic cloves is now RCGC and one large can of stewed tomatoes is now OLCST and extra handfuls of salt and cheese is a given is EHSCIG. You have to admit, using letters instead of words is a real handy shortcut, sort of like throwing four or five processed foods together instead of cooking a recipe. Sadly, EVOO pops up all over, from mommyblogs to foodie sites to recipe databases. When I had to ask my mother on the fourth time hearing it this Christmas what “The BY” stood for, and learned it’s The Back Yard, I wept and then I drank and then I drank the Nyquil, all of it and then I slept the artificial sleep of morose spearmint misery. I fear this is a battle we’re losing. Well played, Rachael, well played.

This is the first in your editor’s new column for 2011, The Insider’s Guide to Life, exploring topics such as media, culture, sex, politics, carbs and fonts. If she’s got the strength for it, there will be more to come. Cheers and spellcheck!

Image: kennymatic