Cau­tion: ‘Mis­in­for­ma­tion’ lit­er­ally in­cluded be­low

The Calvert Recorder - - Community Forum -

In the hit song by The Po­lice, “De Do Do Do De Da Da Da,” Sting wrote, “Po­ets, priests and politi­cians have words to thank for their po­si­tions.” In­deed. Jour­nal­ists do, too, and the hand­ful of us who ply our trade for mod­est liveli­hoods here in South­ern Mary­land keep our an­ten­nae up for any un­usual twists and turns of phrase.

Given the con­stant state of flux and ex­pan­sion of English, it should come as no sur­prise that one es­ti­mate now puts the num­ber of words in the lan­guage at about 1.1 mil­lion. Mer­riam-Web­ster and the Ox­ford English Dic­tio­nary would take at least a quar­ter-mil­lion off that to­tal, but suf­fice it to say, there are a lot of words from which to choose to com­mu­ni­cate in English.

And Dic­tio­nary.com, for at least two decades now the pal­adin of Amer­i­can ex­pres­sion, re­cently re­vealed its word of the year for 2018. That word is “mis­in­for­ma­tion,” de­fined by the site as mean­ing “false in­for­ma­tion that is spread, re­gard­less of whether there is in­tent to mis­lead.”

But let’s be care­ful not to equate that with “dis­in­for­ma­tion,” de­fined by Dic­tio­nary.com as “de­lib­er­ately lead­ing or bi­ased in­for­ma­tion; ma­nip­u­lated nar­ra­tive or facts; pro­pa­ganda.”

In th­ese times of “fake news” and im­pli­ca­tions of such, it’s easy to see how “mis­in­for­ma­tion” could gain some trac­tion in pop­u­lar cul­ture. Con­sid­ered next to the site’s words of the year for the past two cy­cles — “com­plicit” and “xeno­pho­bia” (an ir­ra­tional fear or dis­like of for­eign­ers) — it shows Dic­tio­nary. com’s ef­fort to cap­ture the spirit of the day even more so than the fre­quency of a word’s use.

Ox­ford’s en­try for 2018 word of the year is “toxic.” Like the Dic­tio­nary.com choice and Mer­riam-Web­ster’s nod to “jus­tice” as its word of 2018, it’s meant to ex­press the mood, ethos or gen­eral so­cial pre­oc­cu­pa­tions of the year, or some­thing that could have po­ten­tial for a term of last­ing cul­tural sig­nif­i­cance. But the Ox­ford choice has a bit of sta­tis­ti­cal science to it. The OED noted a 45 per­cent in­crease in how of­ten “toxic” was looked up on its web­site, which noted how the term was used in a num­ber of lit­eral and metaphor­i­cal senses. Ox­ford re­ferred to a top 10 list of col­lates — or terms ha­bit­u­ally used with — “toxic.” It was paired most of­ten with “chem­i­cal,” “mas­culin­ity” (re­flect­ing the #MeToo move­ment) and “sub­stance.”

Mer­riam-Web­ster said “jus­tice” was looked up 74 per­cent more of­ten in 2018 than the year be­fore. It noted that in con­junc­tion with its so­ci­etal mean­ings (racial jus­tice, crim­i­nal jus­tice, eco­nomic jus­tice, etc.), lookups on its web­site had do with with the U.S. De­part­ment of Jus­tice (cer­tainly in the news a lot in 2018 with all of the fed­eral hear­ings and in­ves­ti­ga­tions), as well as in ref­er­ence to the Brett Ka­vanaugh con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings prior to his be­com­ing the new­est jus­tice on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Go­ing hand in hand with the words of the year from those three sources is what The Marist Poll deemed — for the 10th con­sec­u­tive year — as the most an­noy­ing term in English: “what­ever.” Over­all in the coun­try, a plu­ral­ity of 36 per­cent of those sur­veyed found it to be the most an­noy­ing word or phrase in Amer­i­can speech.

But get this: While “what­ever” seems most re­viled by those 30 and older, a plu­ral­ity of those younger than 30 were most an­noyed by the word “lit­er­ally” (pre­sum­ably its mis­use, as in: “I lit­er­ally died when I heard the news”).

So in 2019, stay alert with us for what words will stick out. But al­ways know that you will not see mis­in­for­ma­tion in The Calvert Recorder.

And we will con­tinue to re­port when toxic el­e­ments in our com­mu­nity are brought to jus­tice.

Or what­ever.

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