“Words define us. We need new ones,” says Lucy Mangan.
Three new dating terms have arrived (as I’m told by people less married, better looking and altogether more advantageously positioned in the sexual arena than I ever was).
Joining the likes of ‘ghosting’, ‘breadcrumbing’ and ‘benching’ come ‘curving’ (avoiding someone you’re not interested in rather than telling them), ‘prowling’ (getting in touch with someone you broke up with or ghosted – which I count as a shoddier thing – as if nothing’s happened) and ‘throning’ (going out with someone for the social, or social media, status they bring you).
I’m always uplifted by the advent of new dating vocabulary. Perhaps slightly strangely so, as it generally captures the less appealing aspects of human nature and behaviour rather than our better angels, but the joy of being able to nail something down by naming it outweighs all else.
In my day, we had to make do with the umbrella term of simply ‘being a shit’. It got the message across, but it was too loose to bring real satisfaction. You could occasionally narrow it down – ‘breadcrumbing’ was ‘stringing someone along’, for example – but the old term is neither as succinct, nor does it quite capture the deliberateness of the action.
Naming and shaming particular actions with particular terms is much better than the broad-brush approach. It gives you greater ownership of the experience and more power over it; specifically, the power to recognise it as the work of a certain type of shit, retrofit the warning signs and avoid them in the future. And new words make us look anew at old behaviours and help us avoid unconsciously accepting them as normal practice. It renders them not worthy of mention, their calling out replaced by an eye-roll and a shrug, the silent, “Eh, whatcha gonna do?”
People often like to mock new words, I’ve noticed. I’ve also noticed that those people tend to be the ones most likely to have the new words and the power they bring used against them. The ones who don’t want attention drawn to the old behaviours because they depend on them and have much to lose if their shittery stops flying beneath the radar.
This too is uplifting. Sometimes, when I am down, I like to remember the aggression that greeted the introduction of ‘microaggressions’. That term which gave women especially a neat, insanely useful way to describe all the tiny things that happen to us that add up to hostility and prejudice at worst and a different experience of life’s journey at the very least. Having the word at last made it harder for its practitioners – microaggressors, we could call them – to get away with it.
Language is so important. It influences how we think. It has the power to perpetuate old systems or usher in new ways of thinking, from small instances to cultural change. Laura Bates’s ‘everyday sexism’ took off because it gave us a new category for our experiences, raised our consciousness of the level of daily crap we’d been putting up with and allowed us to start rejecting it en masse. It’s why campaigners worked so hard to bring about guidelines for press reporting on domestic violence and murder, so that the framing of the killing of a woman by her partner should no longer automatically be variations on the ‘devoted husband/ loving father of three’ line.
Words define us and the world about us. We should invent all the new ones we need to tell all our old, untold stories. Why be ghosted out of history any longer?
Image: Elizabeth Tsung/Unsplash