Day 444: The Lexicon Gets Jiggy With It – Words From The 90s

originally published March 19, 2013

As a full-time juggler, manhandler, and crass exploiter of words, I sense a giddy little lightning shiver of excitement when a linguistic topic floats to the top of the chum-pile for selection in my daily tithe. I’ve marveled at some of our most recent additions to the western lexicon, today I tripped over a list of words coined in the decade that truly heralded the inescapable Information Age: the 1990’s.

A lot of words on this list are still lilting in the air, often getting plucked by someone’s voice and dropped into conversations without fanfare. We know what a webisode is, the term LGBT is commonplace, and we’re all familiar with the internet meme. The word ‘blog’ is everywhere. Some people have called this site a blog, which I suppose it is, though I prefer the term ‘endurance experiment’.

Here are a handful of terms who surged in the 1990’s and have since dropped off my radar.

In the 90’s, it was important to differentiate between Disneyfication, McDonaldization and Walmarting. Disneyfication is what everyone fears about the new Star Wars movies – it involves stripping the original from its real character and repackaging it in a sanitized, child-safe format. Some complain that Times Square is Disneyfied, closed off for safe pedestrian travel, packed full of approachable chain restaurants and tourist sights, and sadly lacking in the pornographic theaters and random masturbators that made the area a true adventure back in the 1980’s.

McDonaldization occurs when a culture shifts from traditional thought to rational thought, promoting efficiency, control, and predictability like a smooth-running fast food restaurant. For a culture, if this means tossing out local customs or stripping down the marketplace kiosk and replacing it with a Gap, so be it. Walmarting is the depressing act of aiming to appeal to every demographic, paying your workers as little as possible, flogging sweat-shop merchandise and messing up local economies. I’ll take my Disneyfied world any day.

The reason I cringe a little when someone calls this site a ‘blog’ is mainly due to an antiquated notion of what blogging means. In the 1990’s, the earliest bloggers were people writing their thoughts, feelings and experiences and posting it for the world to see, like an online diary. These were the escribitionists. The word is a portmanteau of the Spanish word ‘escribir’ (meaning to write) and ‘exhibitionist’ (meaning to show off one’s dink, perhaps in a 1980’s Times Square kind of way). This was how the blogosphere started, even if now a ‘blog’ can properly refer to someone’s page about auto repair, film reviews, or a thousand random topics.

I suppose it’s up to me to get over my aversion to the word.

When Simpsons writer Ken Keeler was pitching in on the 1995 episode “Round Springfield”, the script called for Groundskeeper Willie to take over a French class at Springfield Elementary due to budget cuts. Keeler had Willie aptly demonstrate his contempt for the French, by referring to them as ‘cheese-eating surrender monkeys’. That one line – hilarious and satirical, just as the Simpsons still were in 1995 – became a thing.

Conservative National Review journalist Jonah Goldberg wrote a 1999 piece encouraging our xenophobia called “Top Ten Reasons To Hate The French”. In that piece he adopted the term, which has the power to deride and belittle with a self-satisfied smirk – the most prized delivery in the conservative journalism game. The term continued to be used when France refused to send troops to fight in the War on Terror, and it has now become a journalistic cliché. Much like conservative journalism itself, in this humble writer’s opinion.

The opposite of intelligence is not stupidity, it’s extelligence. This word, coined by writers Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen in 1997, refers to the wealth of knowledge and cultural capital that is readily available to us in the form of legends, stories, movies, books, etc. This mirrors ‘intelligence’, which refers to the cognitive functions and knowledge of our brains.

If you want to know more, you should check out their book, Figments of Reality, and let them explain it far better than I could in two short paragraphs. Needless to say, our society seems to be relying more and more on extelligence as we neglect memorizing our friends’ phone numbers or remembering who was in that movie about that guy who did that thing, because it’s all stored for us in our phones anyhow. How our society appears more reliant on stupidity also, well that’s fodder for another article.

You know that person who claims to be a vegetarian but still eats fish? Maybe they do it because fish have no feelings anyway, because still want the protein without the adverse effects of red meat or the fear of consuming a rabid chicken, or maybe it’s just because they hated Finding Nemo. Well there’s a term for this diet, and it came out of the 90’s: pescetarianism.

One 1999 study showed that mortality due to ischemic heart disease was 34% lower in pescetarians and regular vegetarians who consume dairy, and only 26% lower in vegans. So from a health perspective (at least this one), eating fish as a vegetarian isn’t going to harm you.

Unless you really loved the movie Finding Nemo, and you don’t want to accidentally ingest Dori.

I’m not going to lie, I didn’t mind looking up photos for this term. The ‘handbra’ became a fad in the 90’s, mostly thanks to the most popular cover in the history of Rolling Stone magazine, the September 1993 edition, featuring Janet Jackson. Another famous handbra was that of Ronald Reagan’s daughter, Patti Davis, on the cover of Playboy. Then there was the 8-woman handbra on the cover of the 2006 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. So many handbras, yet only so much I’m willing to risk the ire of my IT department by doing research here at work.

Lastly, here’s one for you aspiring writers. It’s called the Small Penis Rule. If there’s someone out there that you really hate, and who you want to depict in your next piece of fiction as the piece of semi-sentient excrement they really are, you can readily employ this rule. The Small Penis Rule was devised by libel lawyers as a way for authors to avoid lawsuits. Make sure that character, whom you based on your boss, your neighbor, maybe your florist (depending on how tight your relationship might be with your florist), is described as having a small penis. No one will want to come forward and claim that the small-penised character is based on them.

This was put into practice when author Michael Crichton got ticked off at reviewer Michael Crowley, and subsequently put a character named Nick Crowley in his next novel, describing him as a Washington-based journalist and Yale graduate / rapist with a small penis.

By the way, no reason for the Rush Limbaugh photo up there. Just needed something to fill in the white space.

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