Place your bets now, sports fans. The smart money is on “vortex” for 2014.
For what, you ask? Oh, only the most important award of all: the American Dialect Society’s Word of the Year! Last year’s winner, “because,” — as in “because science” — beat out such zeitgeist-y dialectical elements as “selfie,” “twerk” and “Obamacare” to take home the top honor.
This year — though we’re a mere third of the way through it — has brought all manner of vortexes into our lives and our newsfeeds: The Polar Vortex froze our noses (as well as our fingers, our toes and our stink bugs.) The Pollen Vortex is about to make Claritin the most sought-after drug on the market.
We can’t escape the vortexes of 2014 — but maybe we should try.
Sure, pollen and single-digit temperatures are universally annoying. We can even go so far as to say that they have the potential to be universally dangerous. Frigid weather poses a number of problems for a city like Philadelphia: over-crowded homeless shelters, delayed public transit, rolling blackouts. And anyone who has ever endured a week-long sinus infection knows the kind of suicidal-thought-provoking agony that can come from a bad allergy season.
Despite those potentially prickly issues, these vortexes are not actually disasters. They are not calamities. They are not even all that traumatizing for the average human being. And yet, they are presented to us in a laughably catastrophic manner. (Need proof that it’s all a little silly? Check out this roundup of cheeky Poehler Vortexes in honor of comedian and actress Amy Poehler.)
“Vortex” isn’t the only word that the media trots out to get us riled up about not-so-serious trends. (And we at Philly Mag are just as guilty as everyone else. When you search “vortex” on our site, you’re offered a whopping 184 results.) A week doesn’t pass when we aren’t being hit over the head with corny stories about the Whateverpocalypse, the Ugh-mageddon and the latest Something-Gate that’s enraptured the nation. We have become a people who thrive on irrationally created melodrama. When we get all hyped about weather-related portmanteaus, we are no better than the average Real Housewives cast member.
It would be easy to blame the Internet for this trend, to say that the unending quest for pageviews requires media outlets to catastrophize minor events to earn clicks. But this has been going on since long before Upworthy started telling us what we wouldn’t believe and Buzzfeed found a way to transform even the most mundane news into a series of addictively clickable lists. Wikipedia has a page dedicated to all the different scandals that have been “-gated” and there are at least a hundred entries to scroll through. Many of them are from before the Internet turned us all into iPhone addicts.
However, the linguistics of the Internet do impact our day-to-day communication both online and off. (See: YOLO.) There’s no reason to believe that we’ll ever stop taking minor inconveniences and blowing them out of proportion, especially if the Internet continues to evolve in a way that glorifies faux crises. Knowing this, perhaps we should, instead, present all our news with the most outlandishly dramatic headlines. Here, a sampling of what this website could offer you:
Oh right. That last one’s real.
Follow @errrica on Twitter.