Monthly Archives: December 2008

Bon Mot: “Frenemy” and “Bromance”

Editorial note: Bon Mot is an occasional column by Culture Wharf contributor and UC Berkeley vocabularist Jacob Mushin that focuses on the relationship between emerging pop-culture vocabulary and the social trends they reflect.

I opened the Boston Globe sports page this morning and read that the Jets are the Patriots are “football frenemies”, outlining the AFC-playoff picture that has New England fans pulling for New York this weekend (Root Canal).

Frenemy is not however, according to the red underline on my computer as I write this, an actual word in the dictionary.

But it is a word in the hallowed tome that is the Urban Dictionary and has notched itself a few pieces of high profile pop-culture. including Sex and the City and The Colbert Report. The word is now used in journalistic prose, not exactly with regularity, but without explanation – another sign that it has entered the public’s vocabulary.

The word Bromance occupies a similar space in today’s landscape of emerging vocabulary. “Bromance,” referring to the “complicated love and affection shared by two straight males” (Urban Dictionary) will be the title of a new MTV reality show featuring bro-dating for dudes and starring The Hill’s Brody Jenner. Bromance, like Frenemy, has also seen increasing use in print in recent years Here’s to ‘bromance’

Try a Google News search for each term to gauge the current level of journalistic and pop-culture usage.

No longer a joke, but not quite real words, these two linguistic anomalies persist because they capture something in a single word that used to require a paragraph’s explanation: “well she’s kind of my friend but there’s a long history there, I mean we used to be really close like freshman year but then she started dating my ex and I was like ‘I’m not going to be your friend anymore you slut’ but then we were sort of part of the same group so we keep up the appearance of friendship for social reasons.”

Frenemy says it all in one.

Language is always evolving to more accurately represent reality. The more complex and intensely social reality human beings now occupy demands succinct conceptualizations for heretofore un-baptized social phenomena.

So perhaps frenemy and bromance aren’t headed to Merriam and Webster’s dictionary just yet, but the social relationships they represent aren’t likely to dissapear anytime soon.


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Politically Correct Native Americans Have Globalization to Thank

Mandatory background reading:

The people that were here before European settlers arrived used to be Indians.

Anyone who has ever taken an elementary school social studies class could tell you that Columbus mistakenly declared the natives “Indians” because he thought he had succesfully sailed around the world to the south-Asian subcontinent.

And the name just kind of stuck.

Of course I had always heard that technically they were “Native Americans,” but like not calling women “broads” I always thought it was something you only had to do when one of them was around. So for me and most of the people I knew, Indians were Indians.

Growing up in Cleveland under the watchful eye of “Chief Wahoo” I have witnessed the cultural battleground over the term Indian first hand. It seemed like every year at least one group of over-educated white people from places with names like Wesleyan and Swarthmore had a problem with the term Indian or the Chief Wahoo logo. Editorials would be written in the Plain Dealer, intelligent sounding discussions would occur at dinners among the Cleveland elite, but the name Indians and our red-faced feather-sporting chieftan persisted through it all. Year in and year out, for all the agitation of the post-colonial studies PhD’s, Cleveland stuck with the Indians. And so did America.

Now that used to be an Indian

Chief Wahoo of the Cleveland Indians

Because in America the word Indian has been used for hundreds of years to refer to the native inhabitants of this continent and that word is a part of our cultural heritage. Even when overbearing linguistic political correctness took hold in the 90’s we learned to separate formal from private speech. We taught our kids to say “Native Americans”  when raising their hand in social studies and yet they were giving eachother Indian burns at recess and their parents were taking off to Indian casinos on an Indian reservation for the weekend.

But culturally-sensitive linguistic warriors everywhere are finally seeing the tide turning in their favor, against the word Indian as a label for natives of this country. Globalization is inadvertently bringing an end to Columbus’s famous misnomer by bringing us… real Indians.

Because until a few years ago we didn’t care much about the other Indians in some poor country in Asia, Indians was safely tethered in meaning to North-American natives.

Today real India is usurping, or rather reclaiming, their rightful moniker because of the cultural significance of real India in the era of Globalization.

Walk into any hospital, med-school, or engineering department anywhere in the country and you’ll see why. As orinary Americans come face to face with (brown) Indians more often in every day life, the term Indian as applied to native Americans makes less and less sense. The 1492 mistake that we’ve stood by for centuries now seems inconvenient. Ever since I’ve had a friend from Kerela whom I acknowledge as “Indian” I haven’t known what to call native Americans…  hell I guess native Americans isn’t such a bad descriptor when it’s not being forced on me by the PC police.

I laughed when I heard that Dartmouth College abandoned the Indian as their mascot in a typically 70’s frenzy of self-congratulatory white linguistic bombast and ridiculed the attempts of the National Congress of American Indians to ban Indian names from NCAA sports.

I was the last person I would ever expect to drop the term Indian from my casually racist vocabulary, but it’s simply a matter of utility in the 21st century. Now when I hear Indian I don’t think of feathers and arrows, I think of Tiki Masala, Kelly Kapur from The Office, and Axe deodorant body-spray. When I hear “Indian casino” my first thought isn’t of a tribal reservation with animal skins on the walls — it’s that some international Indian financier from Bangalore is buying up space in Vegas.

Indians have replaced Indians as the primary Indians in American culture, which has accomplished what the “Native American” terminologists never could, and might just prompt Cleveland to re-think the name of their baseball franchise.

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