It's been years since I've paid attention to Time magazine's choice for Man of the Year or, more recently, Persons of the Year. The whole contest has grown yawningly predictable and far too PC. But at my local news stand recently I was nearly knocked off balance by the absurd contrast of Time's Persons of the Year cover: there, scowling through crimson shades was the super-cool Paul "Bono" Hewson wedged between Bill and Melinda Gates like a big nerd sandwich.
I could perhaps understand putting Bono on the cover of Time in 1990 after the release of U2's "The Joshua Tree," one of the great rock and roll albums of all time, and the one album on which the band thankfully refrained from politics. And I'm with Michelle Malkin: Why didn't Bill Gates win Man of Year in 1985 when he developed Microsoft Windows? Microsoft programs certainly work more often than Bono's beloved poverty programs. And Melinda Gates? So she married a rich geek? That makes her Woman of the Year? Bono's understanding of African development is probably at the same level as my understanding of triads, intervals, and meter (and Bono's too, come to think of it). Are Americans truly that desperate for good punditry that they need an Irish rocker's opinions on geopolitics and global finance? That reminds me, I hear the surviving members of Grand Funk Railroad have some advice for Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta.
These days I am more intrigued by the American Dialect Society's annual and admittedly less sexy choice of Word of the Year. Sadly, but not surprisingly, even the Word of the Year has been politicized. The clear winner would seem obvious enough: podcast has become part of everyday usage, yet it came in a mere third. It did manage to rank first in the Most Useful New Word and second in the Most Likely to Succeed categories, but it apparently did not have the right political credentials for Word of the Year. That honor went to truthiness, a word I'd never even heard of, and one -- due to its vagueness and severe awkwardness -- that I can guarantee I will never use. It apparently stems from a TV show -- as do most irrelevant things nowadays -- on Comedy Central. Upon further investigation I find that truthiness was the subject of a two-minute skit on the fake news show "The Colbert Report," and a not very funny one at that. Truthiness is apparently similar in meaning to faith, something you don't know for a fact, but feel in your heart to be true. There already is a perfectly good word for that. Heartfelt.
Naturally truthiness, as defined by the host Stephen Colbert, refers to the Bush administration and conservative talk show hosts; as in President Bush didn't know for a fact that Iraq had nuclear weapons, but he felt they did. This feeling of truthiness, then, got us into war.
Apparently somebody at the American Dialect Society finds that hilarious.
That's not to say the nerds at ADS don't know how to yuck it up. You have to have a sense of humor to come up with an entire category of Tom Cruise-related words or phrases. The Cruiselex of the Year was the infinitive to jump the couch, which means to exhibit strange or frenetic behavior, inspired by the couch-bouncing antics of Tom Cruise on Oprah Winfrey's talk show. (I apparently missed that culturally defining moment too.)
Commenting on the Word of the Year, Michael Adams, a professor of English at North Carolina State University, told the AP: "The national argument right now is, one, who's got the truth, and two, who's got the facts. Until we can manage to get the two of them back together again, we're not going to make much progress." By which I take him to mean everyone needs to think one way, and I can guess which way that will be: Leftward, Ho!
Second on ADS's list of Words of the Year was Katrina. Katrina was the name of a hurricane and a goofy '80s rock band Katrina and the Waves, which, come to think of it, seems pretty ironic now. I'm unclear how truthiness got ahead of Katrina. The latter was certainly used a lot more. Yeah, like a billion times more.
Which brings us back to Bono.
It now occurs to me that the word bono would have made a good choice for Word of the Year -- at least as good as Katrina or truthiness. To bono would describe the action of an annoying millionaire in a cowboy hat who hectors Western governments about sending tons of money to prop up corrupt African dictators, because as we all know Africans are incapable of managing their own affairs and only millionaire rock stars in cowboy hats can save them by hectoring Western governments. Tomorrow's assignment then is to write a paragraph using the words bono, Katrina, and truthiness. Without mentioning George W. Bush or Donny Rumsfeld. As for me, I'm going home to listen to the "Podcast of the Year" Awards. But that's another story.
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