What’s the Matter with Webster?

November 19, 2007

Perhaps because of my Anglophilia, or perhaps because I spend most of my life in an Ivory Tower slaving over illuminated manuscripts by the faint, flickering light of whale oil (being a dual citizen of Norway and Japan, I’m safe from perse-/prosecution–many thanks go to Rabbi Dr. Professor Jurgen Haverstam, DHL for pointing out the loopholes in international treaties), I somehow missed the fact that Webster’s New World College Dictionary had already named their word of the year. In fact, this happened back before it all began, way back on the cusp of November.

But since the winning entry, “Grass Station,” was so terrible, I have decided to speak against; not only contra the word, but also Webster’s standing in adjudicating the contest itself.

After all, what does “New World” college dictionary mean? Whence “New World?” The phrase presupposes at the very least one of, but possibly several, terrible things. One need not be a post-Colonial critic to see that the phrase is overly Eurocentric, the “New World” existing only in opposition to the old. That this continues after Mel Gibson has taught us that there was indeed a world here at the same time there was one there, is simply unconscionable. There can be no “New World” because the phrase can easily be destabilized, fall to the forces of cultural relativism. The other major culprit is the Hegelian system of Dialectics. But with the end of History no more, have we really entered into a New World?

This is, of course, to say nothing of the overtones of fascism and totalitarianism that abound in the name; “New World” being remarkably close to New World Order [On that note, another objection: Joy Division was superior]. Or perhaps it is a question of Messianism, with its new world of a kingdom on Earth. Or the world could refer to economic development, with the “New World” relating somehow to the transition from the 3rd world to the 1st. When all is said and done, the phrase “New World” is so indefinite as to render their very project, their very essence, null and void.

Besides, to what end a Grass Station? It is no doubt better to engage the folly we have and to support the airport extension of the Little Rock Streetcar. After all, through expansion the system may actually prove worthwhile as something other than a distraction for out-of-towners.


Lest anyone say that Dash is simply being contrary, I just want the record to state that last year’s American Dialect Society word of the year, “Plutoed” was an absolutely terrific choice, clearly in touch with the Zeitgeist. Perhaps my indignation is simply the result of feeling let down. Plutoed might have set the bar just a little too high.

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