As I have said many times, it is difficult to be objective about language change. Whether we accept or reject a new usage is very often conditioned by our attitude to the speaker or writer, or to his type. Thus I recognise reluctantly that “debate”, used as a transitive verb to refer to one's opponent rather than the subject, will become acceptable. It is used by good writers such as Robert Spencer - and, to my surprise and delight, Hugh Fitzgerald - and I dislike this Americanism only because I am not used to it. In time I will get used to it, and will use it unthinkingly.
Even a word used in the way you like may become unpleasant if unpleasant or silly people use it. I used to like the word “innovation”. I still quite like it, and use "innovation" and “innovative” fairly regularly. But I am coming to dislike it. “Innovation” is used more and more by jargon-spouting management consultants, and it now has connotations of useless gadgetry – until recently a company called Innovations produced a catalogue advertising gismos you could not possibly want, such as waterproof alarm clocks or ionising kettles – and self-conscious “wackiness”.
Theodore Dalrymple uses the word “discourse” rather more than I like. But when he uses it, it means something, whereas when post-modern meta-twaddlers use it, it doesn’t. Long-term readers will remember “reference-gate”, the protracted kerfuffle over my perfectly legitimate use of the verb “reference” to mean “quote from”. When I used it, it meant something specific. My “discourse” always means something specific, even if not all readers like what it specifies. But I too wince at “reference” used in an artistic context. Writing on the Whitney Museum's Biennial exhibition of contemporary art, blogger Richard Lacayo puts “reference” in the same category as “interrogate”, a pet hate of mine. Eric Gibson:
Richard Lacayo, on a Time magazine blog, likened reading the show's introductory wall text ("Many of the projects . . . explore fluid communication structures and systems of exchange") to "being smacked in the face with a spitball." To combat such verbiage, he recommended banning five words long popular with critics that nonetheless say nothing: "interrogates," "problematizes," "references" (as a verb), "transgressive" and "inverts."
Last year’s bête noire was "resonate". I used to quite like the expression, "this resonates with me," but I now think it has outstayed its welcome. When I read this execrable sentence in the Tate Modern leaflet handed out to crack visitors, I fell out of love with it:
First, and most obviously, the contemplative nature of such a venue allows the gesture to resonate in its widest sense.
Can a gesture resonate? Is a crack a gesture? Whose widest sense? The crack's? Widest sense of what? And how can a venue have a contemplative nature? And why is it most obvious?
This week, “resonate” has a rival: “redolent (of)”. I shouldn’t dislike this word. It has a good pedigree. Thomas Gray used it:
My weary soul they seem to soothe,
And, redolent of joy and youth,
To breathe a second spring.
But I think the use is becoming “weary”. You read it everywhere, often when a simple “reminding me of” would do. The word is no longer – er – redolent of anything.
Worse still, the twaddle-merchants have got their hands on it. It is embedded in their discourse. Here is an article by chris cheek [sic] on “Domestic Ambient Noise/Moise”. Notice that "poetry" has a plural, "poetries". Poetries in motions:
Domestic Ambient Noise/Moise, proliferates possible extensions to the polysemous transhistories of material poetries. d a n / m interrogates and explodes, what is familiarly understood as the 'pattern poem', somatic mark-making.1 It achieves this, through exploring the surface terrains of the page, and beginning to turn the para and peri-textual ecological imperatives of the book as a marketing tool of the Enlightenment, into an agency not of the preservations and retrievals of factual knowledge but of thickening doubts appropriate to certainties unravelling. In doing so d a n / m disinters avatars of scriptural knowledge, to articulate fissures within artifices of pages. Artifice is based upon recognition of pattern and play with that recognition of pattern; resulting, for Baudrillard, in simulation, giving way to the illusions of meaning.
Come off it, mr. cheek. Turn the other one.
Whilst references, representations and meanings will continue to proliferate as d a n / m is processed, for some readers the terms of engagement are already barren, too immersed in acts of negation. Too often for them, d a n / m offers only invocations of the denial of consensual meaning, mockery of the need for meaning as a symptom of socio-deficiency, or active erasure of existing common sense. These are, for such readers, 'writings' ready-redolent of neo-dadaism; yet more conceptually packaged artists' shit. d a n / m can be misunderstood then, as no more than a re-presentation of Mrs. Sparsit's 'impossible void'. Its depictions of textuality so dissipated as to be unreadable, within terms of readability measured against dominant linguistic practices. Letter forms have exploded their delineations to become blotches and globules. Inkish stains muck out the page, turning conventional interdependencies between text and background upside down and inside out. Ink, medium of positive articulation, literally blots conventionally negative spaces between letters and words, rendering the page opaque with necro-lingo-goo. Too many boundaries are being blurred at one time.
“Ready-redolent of neo-dadaism”? Why not “resonates” with neo-dadaism? Or “references” or “interrogates” for that matter? One word, for chris cheek, is as good as another.