You Keep Using That Word, I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means

Students seem to infect each other.

You suddenly notice a typographical error which you swear you have never seen before and then it’s everywhere. The confusion between defiantly and definitely. The collision of minuet and minute.

“I will defiantly be with you in a minuet.”

I’m gonna dance, dammit.

Language charges, of course, and a lot of our spelling and punctuation is the invention of compositors from the late sixteenth to the early nineteenth century and there is nothing inherently natural about any of this. I heard part of a recent episode of Radio 4’s Word of Mouth which told us to chillax and not worry. Were able to distinguish between “we’re” and “were”, with or without apostrophes.

Don’t sweat the apostrophe’s.


“It is a niece film,” one student wrote a couple of years ago.

So, the latest nonsense that’s memed its way around is “relatable”. It seems to be used to refer to The Hunger Games (Gary Ross, 2012), as in “Katniss Everdeen is very relatable.” I don’t recall coming across this more than a year or so back, but suddenly it’s everywhere.

Ponders. Paraphrases. “Katniss Everdeen can easily be told about.” Nope. Makes no sense.

Ponders. Paraphrases. “Katniss Everdeen can be easily be connected to something or other.” Nope. Makes no sense.

I just have the connotations in my head of her having lots of sisters and brothers.

But within the context of an essay on film — even an essay on the books but that aint my bailiwick — surely what they are trying to say is that it’s easy to identify with the character. “Katniss Everdeen can easily be related to.” You probably want to reach for Laura Mulvey or Linda Williams or someone to theorise it a bit.

And so I turned, with exactly the high-handed sense of smugness that middle aged academics trade in, to look at the OED.

And there it is, sense three:

That can be related to […]; with which one can identify or empathize.

The citation they give is 1965: “The research indicated that boys saw teachers as more directive, while girls saw them as more ‘relatable’.” Note the scare quotes there — but the meaning is clear.

The odd thing is why it’s only just emerged in my marking.

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