The moment words took new meaning

PHOTO: Marina del Castell, Flickr CC
Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

If you’ve been on social media you know the phrase. “The moment when …”

Often the term is part of what the kids call a meme. Or, words paired with an eye-catching or humorous image.

“The moment when you realized that the phone was actually a squirrel.”

“The moment when your car made a sound like a coffee grinder.”

Or even, “the moment when you explain something from the internet to an audience split between those who already know about it and those who don’t want to know about it.”

This term, “the moment when” even has an abbreviation in common usage: “TMW.” I promise not to use it, though. That would be TMI.

Each year I like to write about the top words for the previous year as determined by the Global Language Monitor, an organization that tracks actual word usage in global English. It’s important to note that global English is a broader topic than American English. In fact, for the first time this year the Global Language Monitor broke its 2018 top word distinction in two, identifying one for the world and one that stood out in America.

“This is the first time GLM’s analysis has determined two top [words of the year],” said Paul JJ Payack, president and chief word analyst for the GLM. “This is because of the disparity between English-language usage between the US and the rest of the world especially in the language of politics.”

The top word in global English for 2018, according to the GLM, is “the moment.” Of course, this includes much more than the usage I just described.

Today ‘The Moment’ represents a larger than life experience, the convergence of, perhaps, fame, fortune, and happenstance representing a time of excellence or conspicuousness,” said Payack. “More importantly, it can be seen as where we now stand in the evolution of the flow of information.”

What Andy Warhol predicted would be everyone’s “15 minutes of fame” has become a defining cultural feature of our modern lives. We all want our moment. Our world is shaped by key moments, realizations and breakouts — all of which happen at breakneck speed.

The Global Language Monitor lists 2018’s top word in America, however, as “weaponize.”

“‘Weaponize’ rose to the top of the US list, signifying the historically bitter level of political invective, where any word, thought, or phrase is immediately weaponized and, in turn, catapulted back across the partisan divide,” said Payack. “It has gotten to the point where even the absence of language  — absolute silence — can and is being weaponized in the effort to silence the opposition.”

You don’t need to dig too deep to find examples of what Payack is talking about. In fact, I’d wager that some fresh outrage is in today’s news, “weaponized” by one side in an effort to damage the other. It speaks less to what was said or done, but to the divisions etched into our society.

The Global Language Monitor also tracks phrases and names. Not surprisingly, “#metoo” was the top phrase, referring to the two words that united women who have experienced verbal or physical harassment.

Donald Trump was the top name in global English. He might be a divisive president, but people who travel abroad confirm that the world can’t stop talking about him.

The Global Language Monitor’s methodology uses less interpretation than other top words lists. Instead, Payack scans vast sections of print, media and the internet looking at actual usage.

The fact that such a clear delineation is forming between American English and global English should be concerning. Especially when our language becomes petty and the world’s becomes ascendant. We could learn from this moment. But chances are most will just weaponize it.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Jan. 13, 2018 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

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