Glossary of Modernity

Enter the den of 280-character pith and rampage that is Twitter, and you’ll find the usual prophets of digital carnage: Russian spam accounts, frisky Bloomberg bots, think tank bosses, liberal and conservative politicos (both neo- and not), presidents, prime ministers, op-ed columnists taking the ideas war to the online melee, and other prosecutors of the human berserk. 

In that mess of uncivil liberty, there’s a bit of pure lingual joy: self-titled “computer artist” Max Bittker’s “New New York Times” feed (@NYT_first_said)—an engine designed to scrub each new issue of the New York Times for words that have never appeared in it before, and automatically tweet them out. 

Referencing a repository of all the words printed in the New York Times’s 168-year history, the algorithm combs the paper for neologisms, vulgarisms, misspellings, and vernacular. It’s sophisticated enough to jettison proper nouns, so the feed isn’t inundated with the names of New York metro-area newlyweds and real estate developers, hilarious as they may be. 

The “New New York Times” is a guerrilla glossary of modernity—a full record of our new idiolect of excess and word-barbarism. It’s a Dictionary of Received Ideas adjusted to the textures of twenty-first-century America. 

Some words are simple vernacular additions, explaining new taxonomies of wealth: “billionairey,” “bajillionaire,” “ultrabillionaire,” “megabillionaires,” “ultramegasupersized,” “deficitpalooza,” “technochauvinism.” Others are portmanteaus describing new wonders of commerce and consumption: “twerkshop,” “designtrepeneur,” “artpreneurs,” “blockbustier,” “doofuswear.” The latest high-cultural creations are all there. 

Then there are the generational-cultural terms: “bromancey,” “grandmillenial,” “deadass,” “momcations,” “hellasmacked,” “wokerati,” “clurb”; the word smashes: “uknowhatimsayin,” “doyouknowwhatimeanlikeyouknow,” “elemenopee,” “catpeople,” “megachurchgoing”; the vulgarisms: “wanky,” “filthyratbag,” “dipshits”; the adverbial: “supernaturalistically,”  “hyperlocally,” “pornily”; and the inexplicable: “microscoops,” “beefcheeks,” “horsewarming,” “mayo’ed,” “bathsculinity.” 

Part of the fun of scrolling through the “New New York Times” feed is the total lack of context. Each word is divorced from its situation, solitary and stark. For those who crave completeness, there’s the NNYT’s sibling account, “NYTfirstsaid Context” (@NYT_said_where), which spits out the sentence in which the word appears in the Times and a link to the article. 

The “New New York Times” is not simply an amusement, though—embedded in all the word anarchy is a subtle social argument. It’s an exposition on the odd patterns of modernity: that new social conditions mandate new vocabularies and new vocabularies reflect new social conditions. The general economic terms reflect wealth consolidation, the entrepreneurial-venture-investment movement, the gig economy, deadened mobility, and Silicon Valley capitalism. The commercial terms reflect hyper-consumption, abundance, the quest for luxury, and lifestyle-for-sale dogma. The cultural-vernacular terms and vulgarisms reflect decadence and short attention spans. The inexplicable terms reflect the absurdity and theater of modern life. Modernity has invented a new language to describe its mayhem. 

The “New New York Times” is ludicrous fun—and a sign of society in crisis.

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