The landscape of language is changing. As political correctness makes its ever-quickening attacks on etymology, we’re seeing a lot of phrases we could trust to mean certain things replaced with what seem to be much less demanding, or much less threatening ones. Sometimes this can mean good things for certain groups – “blacks” are now African Americans, which is good, and “retards” are now broken into many diverse groups which accurately reflect whatever integrated dysfunction they’re affected by. These are very good reasons for political correctness.
There are a number of bad reasons to become over-specific of our language. Mostly these boil down to either panic, sense of threat, or a need for control. I get this – you do too, right? No need to overdo it.
What concerns me lately though is how often we throw euphemisms aside, and just flat out replace one word with another, or change the use of a phrase, without letting anyone else know. Sometimes this is slang, other times its buzzwords. Sometimes…
When was the last time you heard the term “lunatic fringe?” Do you remember? Did you read it somewhere? I’m reading Six Pixels fo Separation by Mitch Joel, and he mentions on page 90 during an examination of the history of the acceptance of blogging, that in 2004, bloggers were seen as “… people living in their basements, typing about their cats. It was only being done by the lunatic fringe.” This is a totally valid point, but it made me realize I haven’t heard the term lunatic fringe since, yep, probably about six years ago.
What do we hear now? Early adopter. Insidious, isn’t it?
In 2004, bloggers were unaccepted, the weirdos known for having girlfriends in the US – or in Canada, if you’re from the US instead, whatever, right? – with bad haircuts.
Find a picture of Steve Wozniak from 2004- ok, Woz hasn’t changed much. But he’s much better accepted as a rockstar in wider circles, recently. Go find a picture of Matt Cutts, or Robert Scoble from 2004. Here’s a Google Image search if you feel so inclined. Scoble is the quintessential early adopter. Would he have been called lunatic fringe in 2004? I suppose we’d need some of his friends to speak up, but I doubt it. And yet, the term early adopter is being employed to describe the very same behaviours we attributed to bloggers less than ten years ago.
What happened in 2004 when the bloggers attacked? We circled the wagons, knuckled in and prepared lacklustre legal defence against poorly informed miscreants. Now? Businesses have shifted from the defensive to courtship, there’s even a bloggers’ lounge at CES this year (can you tell I’m bitter I didn’t get to go?). And it’s not that the ecosystem has changed. Yes, blogging has become accepted, even encouraged, if we go back to SPoS and just about every other marketing book coming out in the last two years.
But what’s changed about our portrayal of the blogging culture itself?
Once, the lunatic fringe attacked, and drove us back into a huddled circle, a bastion of right and good and true. Now, we’ve become the supplicants, praying for the Gods of the Blogosphere to bless us with yet more linkbait (read as ambrosia) and say nice things about is. SO much so that the FTC in the United States just had to issue a papal bull demanding that bloggers fess up to sponsorship.
What changed? New media used to be the Lunatic Fringe, encroaching on all that was tradition and margin and blue chip. Now, the Early Adopters are leading the way, having discovered a path toward enlightenment, community and equity.
Photo by tibchris.