Precariat: new word for a new class?

1 02 2012

 

I want you to know I’m not an uncritical lover of new words. And it’s not solely because they’re new. I do discriminate, and among my favourites may be found new words for groups of people, whose very labelling tells us something about the world we live in.

One such newie is precariat, clearly a blend of “precarious” and the suffix “–at”, perhaps best characterised in the term the “proletariat”. The use of the definite article (“the”) is a dead giveaway too. I’m thinking of other coinages in this category, like the commentariat.  The category is typified by member nouns, using the suffix “-ian”: proletarian, Rotarian, authoritarian, establishmentarian, totalitarian, libertarian.

I found it in an advertisement for an upcoming lecture at The University of Sydney, where, no doubt, all will be explained.

See below:

 http://sydney.edu.au/sydney_ideas/index.shtml

The Precariat: A new dangerous underclass

9 February, 6.00pm
A generation of educated people now start their working life in debt,  but many are not offered any job security in the new flexible labour market, and drift towards casual and part-time work. Will they form a new under-class that threaten existing social structures?  Professor Guy Standing, Professor of Economic Security at the University of Bath, has coined a new term for these people and others in social and economic insecurity—the precariat

Millions of people, including many in Australia, are entering a global precariat, part of a class structure shaped by globalisation. This lecture, drawing on a new book, poses five questions. What is the precariat? Why care? Why is it growing? Who is most likely to be in it? And where is it leading us?

The brief answer to the first question is that it consists of millions of people in social and economic insecurity, without occupational identities, drifting in and out of jobs, constantly worried about their incomes, housing and much else. It particularly affects youth, many realising that their certificates and degrees are little more than lottery tickets, leading many into status frustration.

Will the precariat’s growth lead towards an authoritarian politics of inferno, with neo-fascist overtones? Or will a progressive agenda emerge in the squares and cities of protest, responding to Enlightenment values and the aspirations of the educated younger generation being drawn into the precariat?

The lecture will examine the labour market dynamics underpinning the growth of the precariat and outline the new ‘politics of paradise’ taking shape outside the political mainstream.

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Barracking

13 01 2012

Interesting question, by David Rowe,  in today’s online The Punch: Is it unAustralian to barrack for the other team?   http://www.thepunch.com.au/articles/is-it-unaustralian-to-barrack-for-the-other-team/. It derives from the old chestnut – the Bradman question – that was designed for new immigrants way-back-when and much discussed in the media.

I quote: “ At issue was the necessary national cultural knowledge for an aspiring citizen contained in the test-prepping document Becoming an Australian Citizen.  Here the reader learnt that Australians like sport and are proud of their achievements in it (especially in cricket) and that `Sir Donald Bradman was the greatest cricket batsman of all time’.”

The Bradman question has gone by the wayside, but the “nation-sport nexus” continues. At the very minimum, governments seem to think that new immigrants need formally to be advised that Australians love their spectator sports. As if that itself were not daily, and everywhere, obvious. As if, too, it’s necessary for their adaptation and acculturation (if no longer “assimilation”).

My concern here, as ever, is the use in the title of the word “barracking” and a simple pondering thought about when the term might be deployed for whatever purpose in the circus of US  presidential pre-election fever.

From where we stand now, it seems rather inevitable.





STOP PRESS: “heart” is a verb now

29 03 2011

 

You know those T-shirts that announce I LOVE NEW YORK, except that the “love” is replaced by a red heart?  Like this:  And ever since,  the idea has been propagated successfully with any number of cities, places, pop stars and you-name-its.

Now a new trend has started, a kind of backformation. Instead of being semiotically concise with the red heart symbol, there’s evidence now of people using “heart” as a verb. Essentially, to replace “love”. Thus, I love you becomes I heart you. Hence also:  I heart Sydney or I heart summer.

Yes I know, it’s a replacement of one single syllable by one single syllable, hence saving no one at all any time at all.  But possibly babies being born right now will, in 15 years, be hearting their first boy/girl friend. Maybe sooner, if that story about push-up bras being sold to 8-year old girls is true.

The I + heart + object is the transitive form.  The suggested usage (from the Oxford, no less) is: I heart the fact that this is in the O.E.D. No news yet about the infinitive: it is better to heart and lose than not to heart at all. Nothing about the gerund:  Life is all about hearting. Nor the adjectival participle: He broke my hearting soul.

I’m wondering now if we’re to see a backformation from the backformation: where say, “open-heart surgery” might morph into “open-love surgery”. It’s a waiting game.





Spend, Spend, Spend…

21 03 2011

I just received a note in the mail from a clothes label that I tend to buy.

It said:

Dear Ruth,

Your 12-month Loyalty Status anniversary date is coming up soon and our records show that your spend has yet to reach $750.

Yep, that’s right “your spend”.

Well, call me oblivious, but up until this moment, I hadn’t really registered that I was on their Loyalty program, nor what this meant, nor that to maintain my status, I needed to spend $750 before my one-year “anniversary”.

The note included a “Snapshot of (my) Spend” – this showed how much I had spent since 8 May 2010, how much I had to reach ($750) and my “anniversary date” – 8 May 2011. I note they didn’t tell me the gap – how much I still needed to spend, leaving the maths to me. Nice. Politeness through omission or obliqueness.

My point in mentioning all this is to remark on the unusual use of “spend”  which I mostly know as a verb (eg spend money, spend a holiday, spend time). The dictionary agrees with me, but does have one citation for spend as a noun namely, “an amount of money spent, esp regularly, or allocated to be spent”.

Nonetheless, it seems to me that this unusual form of expression masks a certain discomfort. There’s a tension here. On the one hand they have lots of “purr” words – loyalty, rewards, anniversary etc; but the core ugly truth is that I have not spent enough, that I need to spend more if I want to stay on their database of much-loved people.

I imagine they sat around for a few hours, maybe with a bottle of red, brainstorming ways of saying  “You haven’t spent enough” without being too in-your-face; and finally came up with using “spend” as a noun, to take the edge off. Well, it certainly took the edge off for me, because it took me a few moments to work what they were trying to say, all of which is inherent in the politeness process, where you might dither about a bit (linguistically or physically) and that very behaviour is positively decoded as the effort to be polite.

Well of course, I’m not so keen to be part of this elusive Loyalty Program (elusive because even when I was having it I didn’t know I was having it) that I’m prepared to fork out hundreds of dollars that I might not otherwise have spent, just to stay on the cool-people database.

It all reminds me of the well-known slogan at a well-known department store whose signs often announce “You’re Invited to Save”, when what they mean is “You’re Invited to Spend”.

George Orwell, you can come out now from under that rock.

 





Foreskins – an unusual point of harmony

9 03 2011

There aren’t many topics that bring Jews and Moslems into the unfamiliar territory of agreement. But there is one, and it’s just come up again, in San Francisco, where Jewish and Moslem groups are mobilizing and strategizing about how they will rally against proposed new legislation that will seek to criminalize male circumcision. It’s a topic where both faiths see eye to eye, as the riualized custom has a deeply embedded history, with cultural, community and religious associations.

You may well be thinking – what is my interest here? Am I trying to suggest that if agreement can be so easy on the delicate matter of the foreskin, then surely allegedly intractable points of contention in the Middle East might also be potentially open to agreement?

Short answer: No. In fact, my interest is less political than linguistic. I note that the leader of the anti-circumcision group in San Francisco is a self-described “intactivist”  – an activist in favour of well, staying intact.

It’s a clever word: like the Pro-Life lobby, it harnesses the positives (intact-ness), rather than promoting the contrariness (anti-abortion; anti-anything). It finds a “nice” way (if somewhat indirect, but that comes with the territory of euphemism) to avoid the word “circumcision”, which is very, well,  in-your-face.

It does make you wonder what name the anti-intactivists will come up with, to lend their cause support and energy.





At this point in time…

11 06 2010

I heard this on yesterday’s TV news, following the tragic, fatal shooting of the Chubb security guard:

Acting Superintendant:

It is my unfortunate position at this point of time to advise that I have been informed that that security officer is now deceased and his family has been notified of the circumstances.

I’m wondering why anyone would use such convoluted and distancing language for the purpose of making this announcement.