Language

26
Mar 10

How Buzzwords Work (Maybe)

Proven By Science//5 comments • 521 views

I was lucky enough to attend a fascinating talk hosted by Mark Earls at the RSA last night on “cultural evolution” – using evolutionary theory to examine the mechanics of how stuff spreads through culture. I then came home and found a great Nitsuh Abebe post on my tumblr dashboard about music critic cliches – when and how they’re used.

The link between these two things? One of the most interesting parts of the talk was when Dr Alex Bentley of Durham university showed some analysis of the spread of “buzzwords” in academia – how particular language choices move through a population. He was looking at the change in use of words like “nuanced”, “apropos”, or “agency” as well as more obviously loaded terms like “Marxist” and words like “retarded” (which academics tend to use to mean ‘slowed’). So of course I found this quite exciting, as it seems to me not wholly unlikely that the use of words like “ethereal” or “soundscape” might well spread in similar ways.