Speople always want to choose something. A watermelon competition is held every year in Diyarbakir, Kurdistan. In return, the farmers from the region bring their watermelons and the biggest melon wins. Last year she weighed a whopping 51 kilos. Similar competitions also take place in Germany. I’ve also signed up for a potato competition before, but I couldn’t enter because my potato plant was moldy. But not only fruits and vegetables are awarded annually, but also words. This is then called pompous language criticism or language maintenance. Personally, I doubt that that will do any good and would rather recommend reading poems, the new ones by Durs Grünbein or the old ones by Friederike Mayröcker, for example.
The word of the year 2022 was “Zeitenwende”, which sounds a bit like the title of a Silbermond album from 2007 and which could also be cynically translated as “Better late than never”, because Russia has been at war in Ukraine since 2014. But well, it’s not the job of the jury to evaluate Germany’s Russia policy. In a few days we will find out what the nonsense of the year 2022 is. It’s about discriminatory, misanthropic and euphemistic language. For example, “kebab murders” for the murders of the NSU (nonsense word of the year 2011). My suggestion for this year: “Climate RAF” for the “Last Generation”, i.e. for a group of people who throw mashed potatoes, constantly stick themselves somewhere, demand a speed limit on motorways and a permanent 9-euro ticket. So almost the same as an armed terrorist group detonating explosives and killing people.
The non-word is about linguistic brutalization. Only sometimes it is surprising when the alleged brutalization of the language beats that of an actual war. In 2014, for example, “Russia understander” was the word of the year. In a year when Russia illegally annexed Crimea, the generalizing term seemed to be the bigger problem.
They quarrel with holy seriousness
As I recently found out, there is now also the “Cluster of the Year”, chosen by two journalists who really wanted to choose something. “Freedom” came in at number one. Strange, after all, the first half of the year was marked by the struggle of the people in Ukraine not to have to live under Russian slavery, and in the second half also by the struggle of the people in Iran to no longer live under the yoke of the mullahs must. The Kurdish slogan “Jin Jiyan Azadi”, “Women live freedom”, became the call of the protests. In the case of “freedom”, however, which is given a negative mark here, the justification vaguely states that it is about people who seek their own advantage in their own name. It’s nothing new for people to clothe their selfishness in noble words. In any case, on Twitter this somewhat random-looking election was greeted with outrage from the minister to the chief reporter. But hey, on Twitter people are constantly getting angry about something that’s hard to explain to people who aren’t on Twitter.
Today everyone is a language critic. Or at least wants to be. Not that language criticism is pointless per se, on the contrary. One has to look at the words in which wars are waged: without the word “war” (Putin 2022 in Ukraine) or in the name of the “olive branch” (Erdogan, 2018 in Afrin); and which old new vocabulary the old new right use (“revolution”, “foreign infiltration”, “lying press”). But for the most part, today’s language criticism isn’t even about language. But a matter of faith. For example with the question: How do you feel about gender? Some believe that any injustice can be eliminated with the right wording. The others act as if there had never been a change in language. They quarrel with holy seriousness. Basically, it’s also a bit boring. Another form of freestyle is the list, only there is no winner.
Such a list of “harmful words” was recently published by a Stanford University working group. It provoked the expected indignation from some and the expected approval from others. Along with the usual suspects, the list included phrases better avoided, such as “killing it,” because doing a good job shouldn’t be associated with death; or “crazy,” which would be ableistic and would “trivialize the experience of people living with mental illness.” Two things came to mind as I read: the tedium of an administrative manager language recommended here; and the disproportionality of contemporary language debates. As if everything were the same, from the racial slur to the missing gender star. All violence, from the language to the punch. Everything is the same: apples and pears. Watermelons like pumpkins, which brings us back to fruits and vegetables.