A clever turn of the phrase holds great appeal. Since Og first managed to communicate with his fellow cave dwellers, twisting words to highlight an irony, incongruence or absurdity delivers both jocularity and resonance. Today, whole cultures evolved to use language as an indicator of inclusion (or exclusion). Perhaps it is a function of the over-abundance of media, but each cluster has taken to using its own contortion of the spoken word to establish its boundaries. Rap stars, perfectly able to speak in full and complete sentences, chose to perform songs comprised almost entirely of the jargon that belongs to a self-created audience. Government officials become wedded to the alphabet soup of acronyms and ubiquitous form-speak that at once obscures and obfuscates direct messages intended for the citizens they are pledged to serve.
But in a desire to be clever, pithy or simply to come up with an expression that can be trademarked and printed on T-shirts for a fee (the word threepeat comes to mind), those of us who communicate for a living may have done a disservice to our profession. Do we confuse when we simply intend to entertain?
During the most recent national financial crisis, some adroit wordsmith coined the term “banksters” to illustrate the gangster-like thievery that was witnessed in some moneyed banking circles. But given that everyone from reining professional athletes to the latest train-wreck starlet has some variation of “GANGSTER” tattooed for the world to see, does bankster carry a negative or positive connotation? One can imagine the thirty-something hotshot as he helicopters from his ultra-swank digs in SoHo to the colossal (if rented) weekend house on Long Island who is fully embracing the bankster lifestyle. Is theft and abject immorality intended to be cool, but we’re not sufficiently in the club to get it?