Spit & Polish: 24 July 2011
With the past year's movies come the buzz words: enough grit and arrogance to drive you mad
We probably have enough words in our dictionaries to say anything that is worth saying, but things change and new words are created and, occasionally, older words slip back into fashion.
"The Global Language Monitor", run by Paul JJ Payack, tracks the rise and fall of trend-words and phrases. Most of these fade rapidly when the fad that created them loses it's social currency.
Have you recently heard anyone talking about Generation X? Probably not, because that social group has morphed into the social network, where they can "google" things, find friends on Facebook or start "poking" people on the internet.
These buzz words define the mood and style of the time, just as fashion houses and leisure industries do. Buzz words such as "disco mania", "big hair", "glitzy" and "high rollers" defined the excessive 1980s, just as "dropping out" and "peaceniks" are nostalgic souvenirs of the hippies and their flower-power revolution.
Mr Payack's researchers collect these words and it goes without saying that the movies feature prominently. When a great title or a line of dialogue finds a life of its own, it becomes a pop-culture icon for the era.
For example, it has been 40 years since Clint Eastwood said: "Make my day!" and 39 years since Marlon Brando said: "Make him an offer he can't refuse" - but both phrases are still current.
Payack's team also came up with the term "wardrobe malfunction" when Janet Jackson gained unexpected exposure at the 2004 Super Bowl. The phrase was revived when Lady Gaga flashed a nipple in Sydney, Australia. It's amazing how her elaborate costume seemed to vanish when a little pink nipple popped out and made a far bigger statement than the dress itself.
Now Payack's team reveal their "8th Annual Global Survey of HollyWords of 2010", a list of the current words and phrases that resonated through the movie scene.
The most frequently-used "HollyWord" of last year is "grit", obviously related to the success of the re-make of True Grit. The film picked up a raft of nominations but ended up with just one award. Nonetheless, Payack's team found "grit" cropping up in many reviews and features.
Webster's Dictionary defines "grit" as "pluck, courage, perseverance and an indomitable spirit".
The words "grit" and "gritty" featured prominently in hundreds of reviews and interviews about True Grit, in which Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld displayed enormous toughness and tenacity. They brought "grit" back into currency.
"Grit" also migrated into reviews and discussions of The Fighter, a boxing drama based in a working-class area that was constantly described as "gritty", as was James Franco's harrowing mountaineering ordeal in 127 Hours. The Oscar-winner The King's Speech looked beyond the pomp and circumstance and found remarkable "grit" in a king of England. Even Toy Story 3, a tale of abandoned toys trying to avoid being turned into garbage, were praised for their "grit", courage and loyalty.
The word in second place is "arrogance", most frequently used in reviews of The Social Network. Right behind it was the documentary Inside Job, about the global financial collapse. The words "arrogant" and "greedy" featured often in the films themselves and extensively in the reviews and features.
The word in third place is a surprise. It is "abdicate", which obviously is connected to The King's Speech, but it also resonated powerfully in Arnold Schwarzenegger's fall from political grace, an example of an old word finding a new energy.
In fourth place, "stammer" and "stutter" got equal attention, for Colin Firth's eloquent performance based on a totally ineloquent character. It's interesting that Americans prefer soft euphemisms and a more bombastic way of describing this condition, calling it "a language malfunction" or a "communications impediment".
The film did not bother with such soft-coating, and it made a huge impact. In fact, some reviewers went into laborious detail about the difference between a stammer and a stutter, which pushed the incidence of the usage of both words even higher.
The same is true of the next word, "madness" - which Americans also prefer to replace with euphemisms, such as "a delusional incident" or "emotional distress". Natalie Portman's whirlwind performance in Black Swan, however, blasted euphemisms out of the water by her character going barking mad, and she won an Oscar for it.
So there are the five most frequently used trend-words of 2010: grit, arrogance, abdicate, stammer and madness. They summed up the top movies of last year, but if you look carefully at that list, it could just as easily be used a summary of our political situation in this country. And the only good thing about that is that we don't even have to buy a movie ticket. We already have front-row seats.