Friday, August 14, 2015


"True Humility": Bishop: "I'm afraid you've got a bad egg, Mr Jones"; Curate: "Oh, no, my Lord, I assure you that parts of it are excellent!"--George Dumaurier in Punch, 1895

Well, not that kind of curate. I'm thinking more along the lines of 'curated', which seems to have been popping into my awareness lately. Slow to catch on as usual, I see that Alex Williams of the New York Times was noticing the trend as far back as 2009, but then, that's New York for you.

I have known a curator or two in my time, and by that I mean people who worked for museums and on art exhibits in various capacities. I do not mean people as they are represented in the NYT article, as in food vendors who offer curated food stands, or secondhand clothing stores that offer curated collections of not just any old junk. Or so say they.

I liked what John McWhorter is quoted as saying in the article. He calls it "an innocent form of self-inflation. You’re implying that there is some similarity between what you do and what someone with an advanced degree who works at a museum does.”And linguist Geoffrey Nunberg says that it's hardly the first time a less credentialed profession took on the nomenclature of a more prestigious one. I liked the example he gives of "associates", which at one time meant partners or colleagues in some position of power but now can extend to any level of the work force including the salesclerks. I suspect in those cases that being an associate doesn't mean that you share in any kind of equal way in the profits.

Self aggrandizement, then, is both human and normal. But I find it interesting to be in a period when a word's new meaning hasn't quite become universally accepted, so that one person may be signalling "I am so in the know" while the listener may be thinking "You are so full of it." Still some people are just early adapters of new word usage. As with so many other newfangled things, I am not. So I think it will be a long time before you catch me saying that I curate anything.

Well, curator of ignorance, maybe. But I doubt that will go to my head.


  1. We had a speaker tell us how to "Curate your preschool classroom" at the big conference last month. The best suggestion was to get rid of all that laminated stuff.

  2. If it's gone to the preschool level, then it has indeed gone past the point of resistance. Thanks for that note from the real world.

  3. Sadly, my beloved NPR station KPCC has a commercial or " promotional" that states "Now you can download KPCC on your iPad where you'll find hand curated content." Good God.

  4. For better or worse, I think self-aggrandizement is just part of the human condition. At the moments we catch it, we observe and then pass on.