Along with many of my friends I've been fascinated by the unfolding of verbal antics around Brexit and Trump and the contamination of many other national scenes by fresh populist language. Having swallowed and somewhat digested “fake news” and "alt–right”, I am currently choking on "optics".
All of a sudden, instead of hearing people say “appearances" or discuss "how things look", almost every news hour and in my curious surfing of the web I am reminded of my recent excursion downtown to the optician. "Optics" to me means having my glasses repaired so I can more assiduously focus on and navigate through the tsunami of neologisms on my computer screen.
Language is a living thing and I can't expect it to stay stable. Having been expat for almost quarter of a century this time around, I'm quite often surprised by finding a word or expression in an email from someone “back home” that I never heard of, need to google, or at least call up someone to to interpret for me. Thomas Wolf titled his novel correctly, "You Can't Go Home Again", leaving us to wonder if we should want to…
New phenomena inevitably need new names, but when we start relabeling our common experiences, as in the case of "optics", I start to wonder if there is not some kind of pedantry, or even worse, a kind of avoidance going on urging us to create a sanitized word to describe something that we are familiar with in its down to earth reality. I also wonder how much this contributes to people picking up a word to sound au courant.
US English is known for its exaggerations and its euphemisms. I must confess to some personal naughtiness. When US guests ask me, "Where’s the bathroom?" I direct them there, of course, and revel in their confusion of not finding a potty, but just the bathtub, sink, and shower. He-hee. Welcome to France! However, the current trend to find clean words seems more than prudishness about earthly matters. My sense is that it leans toward conflict avoidance by repackaging what might be juicy or smelly in ecologically problematic but, to all appearances, clean, leakproof plastic zip-lock linguistics.