I’ve been working on an assignment for the past year that requires reading massive amounts of text. I search for new words, senses, usage, or terminology on specific subjects, and when found, record the citation. Sometimes I’m assigned reading, and some subjects are covered by other readers, but in general I’m on my own. The point of the job is collecting ‘evidence,’ or instances of our language evolving in ways that may or may not mainstream. The citations are entered into a database that helps create testimony to the year the term first began appearing in print. No one can predict what terms are passing trends and which ones may someday become very relevant. A good example is the ‘prepper’ movement. A few years ago most people had never heard of a ‘bug-out bag,’ now, this 72-hour survival kit seems almost essential.
My favorite reading is magazines or books about subcultures, which could be anything. Mixed martial arts, extreme skydiving, low-riders, scrapbooking—even meth addiction—all have their own vocabulary. I’m always on the lookout for new or used magazines on subjects that may not have full coverage in a dictionary (who knew bull riding had such a devoted following?). The citations have to exist in print (rather than solely online) so they can be documented. It’s not my job to have an opinion on the reading material—but since there’s so little in the world I feel neutral about…
My least favorite magazines are the plush glossies catering to pursuit of the good life. These upscale manifestos extol food cruises, guided adventure tours, $5000 bicycles, BMWs. Full-page ads hawk plastic-surgery centers and financial advisors. They’re selling a fantasy that most folks can never have. Or can they? I’m so far removed from luxury that I’m bewildered by anyone who’s not in debt—but somebody’s buying this stuff. Who are you people?
Upscale cooking magazines are the most distasteful to me. Though they serve their purpose as sources for new food words, haute cuisine is to me the most boring, smug, and unappealing subject in the world. (You know why these meals are ‘fast’? Because they’re raw.) My diet is so simple it’s hard for me to understand the histrionics behind an out-of-season tomato.
Today, the most popular cuisine is Asian and Latin American, so it’s assumed everyone wants their food at least 100K on the Scoville scale. Restaurant reviews have titles like Go for the Burn and key words are fiery, blistering, blazing, scorching, tongue-searing, combustible, code red. Begin your dinner with a jalapeño gimlet or Grey Goose martini with serrano chile and finish with Sichuan pepper ice cream and a chipotle latte. I feel like the only person in the world who just doesn’t get off on swallowing lava. But what do I know—I was raised on fifty shades of cabbage.
Recipes center on beef, pork, or sea creatures. What goes unmentioned is overfishing, inhumane slaughterhouse practices, and the ever-expanding environmental destruction caused by the meat industry. Larger than life food-porn, shellacked with glycerin or beaded with Rain-X, has the opposite effect on me than what was intended—rather than inspiring flesh-lust, it makes me a little sick. A bite of meat comes with guilt that’s just not worth the taste. Read a Nature Conservancy right after a Bon Appétit and it’ll happen to you too.
And what’s with the word ‘slurp’? A word that evokes onomatopoeic visions of wet chins and icky sucking noises now cheerfully describes how to eat Asian food. It’s like a slurp-pride movement. Office workers happily slurp their pho ga; try the slurpworthy ginger broth with soba noodles; slurp your way through a brimming bowlful of yukgaejang. And this: ‘Lush pork and heady broth you can’t stop slurping—it’s no wonder ramen joints are drawing droves of diners, chefs, and everyone on your Instagram feed.’ I’m not exactly sure what an Instagram is but I hope it doesn’t have audio.