OPINION — We all know languages change over time. Very few of us, for example, speak the way people did 500 years ago, when Bill Shakespeare wrote screenplays for the BBC, using words like forsooth and wherefore and methinks. Nobody even knows what those words mean anymore. Of course, no one knew what they meant then, either. But back then entertainment was hard to come by, so no one complained.
And while we don’t talk like Hamlet (Winnie the Pooh’s friend) anymore, people in Shakespeare’s time didn’t talk like us, either. You won’t find the word gigabyte in any of Jeff Chaucer’s poems. That’s because Chaucer was a pauper, meaning someone who couldn’t afford a computer. Luckily it was hard to tell the difference between the rich and the poor back then, since people didn’t bathe very often.
Anyway, because of the fluid nature of our language, the Oxford folks have started choosing a Word of the Year every annum, in an effort to get people to visit their website, which quite frankly is pretty boring. There are hardly any pictures at all, and most of those are just graphs. I don’t recommend it unless you have insomnia.
Some of the words and phrases chosen in past years make sense, such as Y2K, which was the Word of the Year in 1999. It means You’re Too Kranky, and was coined as a phrase aimed at the people who worried that planes would fall out of the sky and cars would stop working at the turn of the millennium. As if that doesn’t happen all the time anyway.
In 2000 the word was chad, obviously chosen in honor of Chad Akebono Taro, the famous Japanese sumo wrestler who was born in Hawaii. Chad was one of the tallest and heaviest wrestlers of all time, at six foot eight and 514 pounds. His name was chosen as Word of the Year after he visited the Oxford offices in Summerset and ate a desk.
The word in 2001 was 9-11, which is not actually a word, but some numbers and a dash. And while I would like to give the Oxford people a hard time about that, I won’t, because I don’t think that event is something to make light of. I have far too much respect for those who lost their lives that day, and far too much vehemence for the cowards who caused it.
For 2019 the Oxford pencil-heads chose the word pronouns, even though I distinctly remember nominating the word pencil-heads. When I called their office to complain, a person of indeterminate gender began by giving me his or her personal pronouns. I said, ‘You don’t get to choose what people call you.’
He/she didn’t like that just a whole lot, and started yelling, and called me a sis male. I have no idea what that means, so I said I rejected that description for myself, and asked to be called simply a man. He/she said, ‘You don’t get to choose what people call you.’ So that went well.
No doubt you’re wondering what this year’s Word of the Year is, unless you’ve already lost interest and gone back to flipping channels. Well, it’s goblin mode. Really. And if you’re wondering what that means, so is everyone else. The explanation given by Oxford is a little vague.
Their site says it’s a slang term (no kidding), ‘often used in the expressions ‘in goblin mode’ or ‘to go goblin mode.’ Further, the site says it’s ‘a type of behavior which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations.’ Evidently it means ‘a two-year-old.’
I never heard the term goblin mode until Oxford said it was the most popular new phrase of the past year. It supposedly began to surge in popularity early in 2022, when it was used in a mock headline on Twitter. Apparently it’s often used to describe someone who gets all bent out of shape when something doesn’t go his or her way. So it might actually be a useful term during the holidays, when people get together with family and other loved ones to spend quality time having meals, watching Christmas shows on television, and playing traditional holiday games. Because that’s when the goblins come out.
I used to go to San Angelo and visit my best friend, Dale McCorkle, during the holidays. We used to play games like spoons, or spades, or Uno, or Risk, or Monopoly. Most of the time, whatever we played, we ended up playing the all-time favorite – beat the wadding out of whoever’s winning because they’re probably cheating. Game nights at the McCorkle abode usually ended up with someone bleeding. Good times.
So enjoy the holidays, and spend as much time as you can with the people who matter most in your life. And if you end up inventing any new words or phrases, let me know. As soon as you get home from the hospital . . .
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and minister who never met Bill Shakespeare. Write to him at [email protected]
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