Uninformed peeving reappears

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I was just about to write a post about how pundits seem to have given up on ignorant peeving about "new" usages that are actually decades or centuries old, when Victor Mair sent me a link to Alex Beam, "Words we can live without", Boston Globe 12/23/2016. And Mr. Beam is a worthy heir to the earlier pundits who were "At a loss for lexicons" — or maybe he was just up against a deadline without any ideas for a column?

His first example:

Transparency  Remember when John Glenn was orbiting the earth and transparency was an innocent little noun the Kodak company used for “slide”? When the corporate flacks start talking about transparency, you know the shredders are running full blast. Did someone say opaque? That would be the Obama administration, condemned by The Guardian and others for talking the transparency talk and practicing greater institutional secrecy than any previous presidency.

The 1914 OED already listed a relevant sense for transparent:

2.a. Frank, open, candid, ingenuous.

1600   Shakespeare Midsummer Night's Dream ii. ii. 110   Transparent Helena, nature shewes arte, That through thy bosome, makes me see thy  heart.
1635   Ld. Carew in Lismore Papers (1888) 2nd Ser. III. 217   They are very well beloued for their ciuill and transparent carriage towards all sorts.
1878   T. Hardy Return of Native I. i. iv. 81   An ingenuous, transparent life was disclosed.
1891   E. Peacock Narcissa Brendon II. 306   She was transparent as the daylight.

and likewise for a figurative extension of the noun transparency:

1843   T. Carlyle Past & Present ii. i. 56   Written in its childlike transparency.
1866   ‘G. Eliot’ Felix Holt I. v. 120   The transparency of his talk..gave a charm even to his weaknesses.

With respect to the specific corporate or political sense that chaps Mr. Beam's grits, I haven't found any examples published during John Glenn's orbit in 1962, but it's easy to find 20-year-old examples:

"Measures to Promote Media Transparency", Council of Europe, 1/1/1995
"Arms, Transparency, and Security in South-East Asia", OUP 1997
"Transparency and Ambiguity in Central Bank Safety Net Operations", IMF 1997

So you'd think he might have gotten over it by now.

Here's just one of the other peeves that he emits in the column under considerations:

I’d love to retire the ur-cliché “resilience,” although knowing that the Rockefeller Foundation has thrown $500 million at resilience-related rubbish whets my appetite for a piece of that particular pecuniary payout. 

Again, from the OED, one of the well-established senses of the adjective resilient:

3. fig. Of a person, the mind, etc.: tending to recover quickly or easily from misfortune, shock, illness, or the like; buoyant, irrepressible; adaptable, robust, hardy. Also in extended use.

1830   Fraser's Mag. 2 90   One vast receptacle for the abode of resilient and noisy saints like unto himself.
1859   S. R. Hole Tour Ireland 30   Nothing but..the resilient spirit of roving Englishmen could have induced us to sally forth.

1870   J. Hamilton Moses viii. 150   Resolute and resilient is the stout heart of the sinner.
1912   W. E. Weyl New Democracy iii. 28   The most adventurous and resilient among Americans, men who in still earlier days would have engaged in whaling or the desperate fur trade, turned their energies into the construction of railways.
1942   Proc. Acad. Polit. Sci. 19 108   A tough and resilient economy will be needed—one capable of rapid and reasonably smooth adjustment.
1972   National Geographic Feb. 270/1   We found our Karen neighbors bore their troubles in a cheery, resilient, and generally relaxed way.

And similarly for the noun resilience:

5. The quality or fact of being able to recover quickly or easily from, or resist being affected by, a misfortune, shock, illness, etc.; robustness; adaptability.

1857   J. F. Smith & W. Howitt Cassell's Illustr. Hist. Eng. I. lx. 333/2   In their struggles with the ponderous power of England [the Scotch] discovered an invincible vigour, not only of resistance, but of resilience.
1893   Independent (N.Y.) 19 Oct.   The resilience and the elasticity of spirit which I had even ten years ago.
1923   Polit. Sci. Q. 38 237   With a curious resilience which..has characterized him [sc. Gandhi] upon similar occasions before, he came back from his mourning and fasting more determined than ever.
1977   K. M. E. Murray Caught in Web of Words xvi. 309   Although he still had surprising vigour of body and mind, he had lost something of his powers of resilience.
2002   Daily Tel. 30 May 24/4   As Ernest, Alan Perrin captures the character's humour and plucky resilience, as well as his socialist chippiness.

And again, decades-old examples of the specific usage that bothers Beam ("Resilience talk is just a little too glib, a little too modish, a little too nonsensical for my tastes"):

"Vulnerable But Invincible: A Study of Resilient Children and Youth" (1982)
"Winning Life's Toughest Battles: Roots of Human Resilience" (1987)
"Resilience: Discovering a new strength at times of stress" (1988)



  1. Viseguy said,

    December 26, 2016 @ 6:04 pm

    I think the complaint is that these usages are "tired" rather than "new".

    (myl) "New" is pretty much the implication of tropes like "Remember when John Glenn was orbiting the earth and transparency was an innocent little noun the Kodak company used for 'slide'?" Words like "trendy" also suggest novelty — can something be both trendy and past its sell-by date?

    But we shouldn't expect too much coherence from peeve-fests like this one — the objects of dislike may indeed be treated as pernicious innovations and also worn-out clichés, violations of established verities as well as tiresome hold-overs …]

  2. Mike said,

    December 26, 2016 @ 7:50 pm

    Predictably, the comments (125 when I looked a moment ago) are a big ol' pile-on. Like cat pictures on Facebook, word peevage is a sure winner with the audience.

  3. Vicki said,

    December 26, 2016 @ 7:52 pm

    And if the point is "any government or corporate spokesperson who talks about transparency is lying to you," it wouldn't matter whether the usage had been invented by Barack Obama in 2008 rather than being in Shakespeare.

  4. Riikka said,

    December 27, 2016 @ 3:07 am

    Getting rid of "transparency" can be difficult, considering how widely used the word is in the European Union legal terminology: there is the Transparency Directive from 2004, Transparency Register from 2011 (though the work started 1993) and an amount of other occurrences from European Central Bank to NGOs and lobbyists. I doubt the article mentioned changes any of this. If, on the other hand, the point of the author is not to complain about "transparency" per se, but rather about the usage of the word, what about "democracy"? Or why not "grammar", "passive voice" and "newspaper"?

  5. maidhc said,

    December 27, 2016 @ 4:06 am

    I think these writers just dash this stuff off to make a deadline without thinking about it too much. But there is sort of a point there. There is a tendency for a word to become trendy and get overused and tiresome. Earlier today my wife was complaining about "insight". It's a fine English word and I'm sure it has a long pedigree, but it's become a thing to put it in mission statements and the like.

    Mike: Right, that's why they keep churning it out.

    Vicki: I would shorten that to "any government or corporate spokesperson is lying to you".

  6. David Morris said,

    December 27, 2016 @ 5:31 am

    John Glenn's first flight was before I was born, so, no, I don't remember it.

    I think there's a genuine issue about the *over*use of these words and others like them. Unthinking cliches, where/whenever they are used, need to be challenged.

  7. Cervantes said,

    December 27, 2016 @ 9:30 am

    Alex Beam aside, the following term appears in the Guardian article he mentions: "bipartisan transparency reform."

    The compound strikes me as comical, not least because "bipartisan" and "reform" are quite possibly the two most tired words in political discourse.

  8. empty said,

    December 27, 2016 @ 10:08 am

    I don't think Beam is maintaining that "resilience" is a new word, but rather a cliche or a buzzword. His peeve there seems to be with the notion that (the psychological) resilience (of humans) is something to be studied or worked on or bolstered.

  9. Anthony said,

    December 27, 2016 @ 10:16 am

    Kodak used to label Kodachrome and Ektachrome "color reversal film," which confused everybody except photographers.

  10. Adrian said,

    December 27, 2016 @ 10:27 am

    Resilience is certainly one of the buzzwords of the decade. Part of the problem is not so much that it's a fad, but that most people have little or no idea what is meant by it, since we weren't used to hearing it in the context of the activities of local district councils and so forth and suddenly apparently it's one of everyone's top priorities. We're left wondering: is this something new, or is it something that's been rebranded, like the way "disabled" became "accessible".

  11. Robert Coren said,

    December 27, 2016 @ 10:30 am

    Regular readers of the Boston Globe — well, this particular regular reader, anyway — have learned not to take anything Alex Beam writes seriously (whether he himself is being serious or not, which can be hard to tell).

  12. Cervantes said,

    December 27, 2016 @ 11:38 am

    Allow me a little digression on transparency in the media.

    Cy Sulzberger, he of the NYT Sulzbergers, once wrote a memorable column in the family paper in which he praised the CIA for its transparency. Here's how he began:

    The Central Intelligence Agency has been so traduced in recent months …

    And here's how he ended:

    Americans should realize they are miles ahead of any other nation along that road [to "social transparency" and "global ethics"] — not just as a nation but specifically in terms of the functioning of the C. I. A.

    This was in 1975.

    A highlight of Sulzberger's argument: when an academic in Sweden had written to various intelligence agencies around the world asking each for "all the available information about [its] history, goals, structures [etc.]," only the CIA had bothered to reply, sending "about fifteen items of literature weighing one kilogram."

    Sulzberger did point out that the academic, Stevan Dedijer, had served with "Soviet, United States, and Yugoslav intelligence," but neglected to say that Dedijer was a good friend of Bill Colby, then head of the CIA.

    Carl Bernstein later reported that Sulzberger was known internally at the CIA as an "asset," not least because he had knowingly published CIA propaganda almost verbatim in the paper and under his own by-line. "He was very eager, he loved to cooperate," said a senior CIA official.

    So … Which was less "transparent"? The CIA in the mid-'70s or the NYT opining about the CIA in the mid-'70s?

    (That Sulzberger column: "Spooks in an Open Society," New York Times, May 10, 1975, p. 29. And Carl Bernstein's report: "The CIA and the Media," Rolling Stone, October 20, 1977, pp. 55-67.)

  13. Ralph Hickok said,

    December 27, 2016 @ 12:09 pm

    @Robert Coren:
    This regular reader of the Globe agrees with you completely.

  14. Rod Johnson said,

    December 27, 2016 @ 5:25 pm

    Resilience is a buzzword? I've totally missed that. In what context it used so commonly that people are sensitive to it?

  15. Adrian said,

    December 27, 2016 @ 8:31 pm

    @Rod e.g. my city has a "Resilience Team" http://www.birminghamprepared.gov.uk/about-birmingham-resilience/birmingham-resilience-team/

  16. Cervantes said,

    December 27, 2016 @ 8:47 pm

    In what context it used so commonly that people are sensitive to it?

    Organizational theory, initially in a corporate context but now seemingly everywhere.

    If anyone is to blame, I suppose it might as well be Gary Hamel and Liisa Välikangas for their article, "The Quest for Resilience" (Harvard Business Review, September 2003).

    (Unrelated to buzzwordiness, an aside on the merits of the article: the authors make some interesting points about how corporations can seek to better cope with change but — and remember, this is in 2003 — they do praise Bill Gates for making sure that Microsoft always embraces technological change; and Nokia for eating everyone else's lunch by having already saturated the global market for mobile phones.)

    As for Alex Beam, if he's objecting to the very word "resilience," that's a little hard to credit; but on the other hand he does quote (from) the following bit of Rockefeller Foundation-ese:

    At the same time, the [organization's, in this case the city's] CRO ["Chief Resilience Officer"] acts as the “resilience point person,” ensuring that the city applies a resilience lens so that resources are leveraged holistically and projects planned for synergy. […] Effective CROs perform all these functions, helping their cities manage their own complexities to make resilience efforts more impactful, and collaborating externally to identify and integrate lessons other cities have learned, so solutions scale globally.

    Bear in mind: in Boston's case, Rockefeller highlights "coastal flooding, infrastructure, lack of affordable housing, rainfall flooding, rising sea level and coastal erosion, social inequity, and terrorism" as Boston's "resilience challenges" and presumably expects its CRO to holistically and synergistically address all of them. (To be fair, they're giving her two years to do it.)

    If this is the sort of writing — and hubris — that's annoying Alex, one is hard-pressed not to sympathize.

  17. Rod Johnson said,

    December 27, 2016 @ 10:24 pm

    So it's like (for want of a better term) emergency preparedness with a longer-term focus? That seems like a good thing, buzzword or not. The Boston quote seems extremely buzzwordy but basically sound.

    Thanks for the info!

  18. Alex Beam said,

    December 28, 2016 @ 10:01 am

    Thank you for your many attentions and best wishes for the New Year!

  19. Rod Johnson said,

    December 28, 2016 @ 12:52 pm

    And that is how you troll with panache.

  20. A. said,

    December 29, 2016 @ 1:49 pm

    Might "transparency" have become popular as a translation of Russian "glasnost" (which I didn't know was etymologically unrelated to English "glass" until five minutes ago)?

  21. Cervantes said,

    December 29, 2016 @ 2:10 pm

    Might "transparency" have become popular as a translation of Russian "glasnost"

    Possibly, but here is counter-evidence.

  22. Cervantes said,

    December 29, 2016 @ 2:24 pm

    While on the other hand there is this.

    So to answer your question again: possibly.

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