Things that we’ve all noted evolve over time are words that serve to communicate our enthusiasm or wonder. The most active period for word invention for words of this type seem to be the teenage years, when words like “swell, neat, cool, cul, bad, word, sweet” were invented, I think in that order.

Words pop up and quickly disappear, having served their purpose, such as “dynamite, totally, far out, awesome,” though “awesome” may be lingering for a while longer. I think I’m the only person I know that still uses “far out.”

Most of my adult life, the words “fantastic, incredible, unbelievable, amazing” have served to communicate generic wonder. Lately, noting what might be described as word fatigue for the previous set, there seems to be an increase in frequency of use for three additional words: “astonishing, remarkable, extraordinary.” I suspect those three words sort of meandered over from common British usage. The British make almost every word sound like it has more meaning.

It is no accident that words are often invented by teens and young adults, sexual beings without permanent mates. This age is when music drives our lives and souls and is able to explain the feelings and experiences conventional culture seems opaque to. Dancing, we invent new moves. Our musical tastes compel new tunes. It’s as if every moment we’re wrestling with the challenge of communicating both our uniqueness and our allegiance to what our immediate tribe most reveres.

Two currents inform this process of sitting on the edge of invention and assimilation. Mass media homogenize class and culture, massaging regional dialects and accents into softer, less idiosyncratic versions of their former selves. This election cycle has revealed that the mountains of Kentucky hold some of the most racially polarized whites in the country, Democrats unable to vote for a black man. Mass media homogenization has been so subtle and so powerful that this prejudice is the exception to the rule of relatively universal tolerance for a black man president, relative to where we were 50 years ago. Where goes language, so goes society. We’re all sounding the same and thinking the same thoughts.

The second current manifests in the several dozen musical subgenres serving several dozen groups of subcultural demographics. Fifty years ago, there was rock, pop, jazz, blues, classical, rhythm and blues, country, gospel, folk and a couple of others I’m forgetting. We’re watching a homogenizing society revel in subcultural idiosyncrasy. The fashion and accessories business has followed this path that music pioneers. Stand at Clark and Belmont in Chicago and watch several fashion/music demographics stride by in any given minute.

Two currents. Two waves.

In previous entries, I’ve noted biological, societal and ontogenetical evidence of evolution unfolding in complementing waves. Neoteny manifests creative impulses by drawing a compulsion to originate forward in time, to manifest in the physiology or behavior of descendants. For example, a chimpanzee infant, surmised to be similar to a human progenitor infant, often walks upright, has a large brain relative to body size, a small jaw relative to head size and a goofy or playful disposition. Those four features (there are over 30) are all now evident in the adult stage of human beings. Neoteny is the biological evolutionary process of prolonging rates of maturation, and adjusting the timing of maturation, so that ancestor infant features evidence themselves in contemporary adults. We might also say that the proliferation of subcultures in American society today reveals a neotenous societal impulse with invention running amok among our young. Novelty is appearing along with new words to describe the changes.

Astonishing subgenres emerge with remarkable new words being invented to describe extraordinary developments.

The other wave, homogenization, if following the pattern uncovered earlier in these entries, should be working its way backward from the older or more established forces in society. Indeed, this movement seems to be the case. Corporations, by controlling most of mass media, have established a template that the rest of us can ally with. It’s the idea that if we express our independence by the products we purchase, we become unique by what we own. The media that the message is expressed through (TV, radio and film) unite us all as we absorb this communication by the corporate elite. Yet, convention is not as conventional as it seems. This idea of a consumer economy is a relatively new idea. It’s an idea assimilated, disseminated and shared by almost all. It’s a new idea that has become a shared convention working its way down though society, subsuming all classes.

Even convention has its origins and is part of a process of change. It’s just hard to recognize because it moves down from the opposite direction of conception and birth. In other words, what the old folks, the folks who seem to be in control, the elites, are telling us is what they’ve learned or is new to them. It’s something they discovered. Still, these things can change.

Watch for a new convention to emerge from the proliferation of ideas emerging from the young. This convention will take time, maybe ten years. Considering the impact of the web and its unique growth, coming particularly from what the young are drawn to, watch for an imminent end of the consumer economy.

Consider what the new convention might be.

Wow. “Wow” is sort of the big bang of exclamations. It just sort of comes out, yet as a word “wow” seems to have been around forever. For me, it feels like the first word. ‘Wow” is neoteny in three letters.


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