Language’s organic qualities make it fascinating; and I am coming to believe our laziness using language makes it organic. In other words, our constant use of short cuts in conversation brings about many changes in language.
Take “this is the new that” article that was in the Sunday Globe. Writing of our tendency to communicate the qualities of one thing to another using comparisons like “water is the new oil,” writer Drake Bennett notes,
Because it is so ubiquitous and so adaptable, because it so easily captures the human mind’s penchant for analogies, and because it is constantly rendering itself obsolete (what is the new iPhone? who is the new Amy Winehouse?), this off-the-shelf rhetorical device makes an ideal marker of a year’s conversational currents.
I want to call “this is the new that” a metaphor, but I am not sure it really makes the grade. For example, “life is a journey” tells you that life has its struggles as we go along. However, if I said “life is the new journey,” I would have to have in mind some alternative to life or journeys. Adding the adjective “new” really changes things. “Water is oil” makes no sense, because as we all know, water and oil don’t mix. “New” for some reason pushes us to think about what oil had going for it but no longer does.
I spent some time writing in this blog about the growing use of the phrase “left behind,” an allusion to the No Child Left Behind education law. The phrase has been slapped on a variety of things to say they don’t measure up: villages are allegedly “left behind” if their mobile service is inferior. Maybe this makes mobile service the new railroad.
Whatever the reason we embrace short cuts like “left behind” and “the new…whatever,” I don’t think these rhetorical short cuts communicate well because they imply broad comparisons that can’t possibly apply across the board. I say think things through and explain.
However, I was very pleased to see the diagram in the Globe article show that 50 is the new 30. That keeps me from being left behind in the old and un-cool category.
Happy New Year.