Monday, September 15, 2014

Your Fingerprint Word?


There's an interesting post by Matthew J. X. Malady up on Slate right now about "fingerprint words"--words that others identify as "your" words. For Malady it is "iteration"--and yes, he knows it's not necessarily something to be proud of. What was interesting to me in the article, because of my ongoing interest in word drift, is how one's signature word tends to spread around one's group, and how we feel about that when it happens. To copy people's usage is a compliment, but to feel copied too much can feel like theft apparently.


I, perhaps not surprisingly to readers of this blog, am a bit resistant to new usage spreading around me. I noticed a long time ago that in my former workplace, I would not switch to the more casual and usually shorter form of a person's name that I had originally learned as a longer one till it had become quite common usage--Jen for Jennifer, for instance, or Mike for Michael. If they were just introduced to me as Jen or Mike in the first place, then of course I went with that. But I didn't move from more formality to less formality very quickly. And as for true nicknames, which one of my colleagues was quite gifted at coining, I don't think I ever adopted them at all.


In the same way, when everyone suddenly started using the word "referenced", as in "I referenced that", I very deliberately did not do the same. In a workplace, there's quite a high rate of "infection" of that kind. And I do sometimes catch the bug of something, but I usually notice after the word has popped out of my mouth and I feel embarrassed. It's a little bit like being taken over by something that is not your own thought process. One that springs to mind is that there was someone in my sphere that used to say "Excellent" a lot. Or maybe not a lot, but the things he was referring to did not always deserve that response. Still, it's slipped out of my mouth a few times since then.


As for my fingerprint words? Well, actually--no, those are my fingerprint words. "Well" and "actually". I use them too much and unnecessarily. I don't believe I have any really fancy-schmancy ones, or really idiosyncratic ones. But perhaps some readers here can tell me if I'm wrong. Or maybe they'd like to identify their own.

12 comments:

  1. Loved this and will seek out the other article, too. I think some connect me with "family wamily," a silly phrase, and now, in the blogosphere, "random coinciday," which I think I coined as a day of the week when a lot of stuff...coincides. In a more serious way, I don't know!

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  2. Hi Seana, I heard a venture capitalist today on NPR say that at the Venture Capitalist Convention he was just at (who knew?) that the word "cohort" seemed to have been adopted by just about every new tech business trying to pitch their service or product. He also said that it made his "Spidey senses tingle" by the third time he heard it. I got a good laugh out of that.

    My fingerprint , in writing at least is perhaps...perhaps. I seem to use it all the time. Well, actually, I think both of my siblings do as well...

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  3. That venture capitalist bit was actually perfect for this post, Julie. As for the sibling thing, well, perhaps you're right. Perhaps I'll proofread your latest post for EIL and change every 'perhaps' to 'definitely'. Maybe.

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  4. Oh, and for any venture capitalists that happen to be passing by, here's a little more on cohort.

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  5. Somehow I am not surprised that someone who writes under a name like Matthew J. X. Malady would have a word such as iteration as his "fingerprint" word.

    A usage change I have noticed is that "thank you so much" (as opposed to the older "thanks a lot") seems to have passed to men from what to my ears had been use exclusively by women and girls

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  6. Yes, I do wonder what Mr. Malady's story is. I will have to take more notice, but I think my sense of "thank you so much" is one of laying it on a bit thick. Not always the case I'm sure.

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  7. "Thank you so much" is laying it on a bit thick. So is "reaching out." But to the folks who use either, the smarm comes naturally.

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  8. I think people reach for superlatives in relating to others because it's a fairly easy thing to do, as opposed to actually repay them in some more substantial way.

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  9. But is the current expression more fawning in its reaching? Not, apparently, to those to whom it comes naturally. But even for them, I suspect a shadow of the expression's original fawning remains.

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  10. It has a touch more gentility than does "sucking up" or calling someone a lickspittle does, doesn't it?

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