RE­FLECT­ING OUR ‘TOXIC’ TIMES

ON LAN­GUAGE

The Gulf Today - - OPINION - BY BIRJEES HUS­SAIN THE AU­THOR SPE­CIALISES IN SUB­JECTS FROM HEALTH TO SO­CIAL IS­SUES

It’s that time of year again when new words be­gin to be added to prom­i­nent dic­tio­nar­ies and votes are cast for the word of the year.

Ac­cord­ing to the Ox­ford English Dic­tionary, their word of the year is ‘Toxic’. Run­ners-up were ‘gaslight­ing’ which means to try and men­tally ma­nip­u­late some­one into think­ing that they are un­sta­ble and ‘tech­lash’, a word coined by econ­o­mists to re­fer to how the pub­lic and other groups are lash­ing back at large tech com­pa­nies, like Face­book, Google and Mi­crosoft, for their sup­posed om­nipo­tent power over our opin­ions, our data and our pri­vacy.

The words of the year for 2017 were ‘youthquake’ which es­sen­tially refers to the way young peo­ple are in­creas­ingly In­lu­enc­ing to­day’s Cul­ture, val­ues AND even pol­i­tics. The pre­vi­ous year, 2016, the word of the year was ‘post-truth’. THIS Is A term used speci­ically In pol­i­tics where a politi­cian tries to frame his au­di­ence’s opin­ion us­ing their emo­tions and fears as op­posed to facts.

Now the tra­di­tional mean­ing of toxic is a sub­stance or chem­i­cal that is phys­i­cally harm­ful or dan­ger­ous to the hu­man body when in­gested, in­haled or in­jected or to the en­vi­ron­ment when re­leased into it.

But in ev­ery­day lan­guage it has ac­quired a metaphor­i­cal mean­ing in that if a per­son is be­ing toxic he is say­ing or do­ing things that are un­pleas­ant, hurt­ful or hate­ful. More­over, it is these ac­tions that then go on to cre­ate a toxic en­vi­ron­ment which is an at­mos­phere that cre­ates a great deal of dis­con­tent to those in it or around it.

There­fore, it has the tra­di­tional as well as the new metaphor­i­cal mean­ing.

The lat­ter has been high­lighted in the #Me­too move­ment. For ex­am­ple, it stressed how men’s sup­posed mas­culin­ity and power, and how they use it to their ad­van­tage, is toxic to­wards women and even some men. In­deed it was used to de­scribe any­one with more power (phys­i­cal, man­age­rial or po­lit­i­cal) over another in­di­vid­ual re­gard­less of their gen­der or race. For ex­am­ple, some­one just ba­si­cally act­ing like a jerk could be toxic to the en­vi­ron­ment in which he is do­ing it.

The word has also been ex­ten­sively used when re­fer­ring to the new po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment in which many peo­ple In THE West ind them­selves. For ex­am­ple, use of po­lit­i­cal rhetoric to in­cite vi­o­lence or to churn out vot­ers based on in­cor­rect in­for­ma­tion or poli­cies based on un­truths, or to in­cite ha­tred or dis­trust of cer­tain mem­bers of the com­mu­nity, can be de­scribed as toxic. More­over, the word toxic and en­vi­ron­ment can be used in the same sen­tence and not have any­thing to do with our phys­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment. It sim­ply means the neg­a­tively charged at­mos­phere cre­ated by some­one who wishes to en­hance his or her agenda, be it po­lit­i­cal, so­cial or busi­ness.

But THE word snowl­ake Is not A new ad­di­tion but it has now ac­quired An AD­DI­TIONAL MEAN­ING. A snowl­ake is one of the most stun­ning cre­ations In THE world. No two lakes ARE ALIKE and, when seen un­der a mi­cro­scope, they are the most beau­ti­fully formed and sym­met­ri­cal ice crys­tals known to man. In fact, for years, the term was used to de­scribe chil­dren who were ex­cep­tional in many ways, and par­ents wel­comed it as a com­pli­ment. But in to­day’s po­lit­i­cally charged so­cial me­dia world, the word has ac­tu­ally be­come an in­sult. It is of­ten used by con­ser­va­tives to de­scribe lib­er­als with whose views they dis­agree. In gen­eral terms, it means a whiny in­di­vid­ual who thinks they are en­ti­tled and al­ways right.

You no­tice how ev­ery year new words are cre­ated sim­ply be­cause some­one says it of­ten enough. For ex­am­ple, the phrase ‘fake news’ be­came an ev­ery­day word dur­ing the 2016 United States elec­tion. Since then it has been used so of­ten by var­i­ous peo­ple around the world that it has now be­come an ac­cepted term. But the prob­lem is that when a per­son calls a me­dia out­let, or a news re­port, fake news it is al­most al­ways be­ing used to de­scribe news they do not like, even though it may be 100 per cent true.

Other new words mak­ing their way into the dic­tio­nar­ies is the very pop­u­lar term Alt-right used to de­scribe some­one or a group with ex­tremely con­ser­va­tive and right-wing views. The op­pos­ing term is alt-left but gen­er­ally that term is not re­ally used in ev­ery­day lan­guage.

You might also re­mem­ber the very irst time THE phrase ‘Al­ter­na­tive FACTS’ was used im­ply­ing that two op­pos­ing facts can be true at the same time, but we all know that’s not the case.

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