New Words for New Times

Internet meme goes to Washington

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I’m not a fan of so-called “leet” (1337) speak; it seems to have spawned in a different universe than the one in which I was formed—a world where direct vs. indirect object drills were as commonplace as batting practice. That “w00t,” a “word” I couldn’t wrap my mind around three years ago, is now recognized by Webster is maddening.

I’ve come to appreciate these neologisms more, though, as the video game/forum culture from which they sprang become more familiar; while so many in the late 90’s and early new millennium were changing the language via the Internet, I was working on perfecting the old version, under a tree with my head bowed toward a small notebook and inking what I thought was poetry.

Some guys played guitar, and I have to say an instrument is much more efficient for getting girls.

But there is an Internet word, a meme, I do like, especially in capital letters: FAIL. Or with its humorously erroneous and exaggerated modifier: EPIC FAIL.
New Words for New Times
Crisp. Clear. Devastating. Pure poetry from an otherwise silly language. This Slate.com article says it owes its birth to Engrish, or poorly executed translations from Japanese as seen in a video game. Knowing the history always makes a word sound better.

For example, did you know the word “abnormal” is an etymological freak? If it had developed properly from Latin into English, it should have been “anormal.” So abnormal, in a wonderfully ironic and elegant linguistic twist, is itself abnormal.    

If you’re a word nerd like me, you’re just delighted by stuff like that. It’s not far from those great, nearly onomatopoeic words like “thwart” and “shush,” that sound exactly like what they mean.

Slate defines EPIC FAIL this way:

“The highest form of fail—the epic fail—involves not just catastrophic failure but hubris as well. Not just coming in second in a bike race but doing so because you fell off your bike after prematurely raising your arms in victory. Totaling your pickup not because the brakes failed but because you were trying to ride on the windshield. Not just destroying your fish tank but doing it while trying to film yourself lifting weights.”

Slate also notes that FAIL is a succinct way of expressing what the erudite refer to as schadenfreude, or delight in another person’s misfortune or failure—or to get more erudite, the German opposite of the Greek agape.

So, when somebody holds up a paper sign with the word FAIL, lighted with the glare emitting from Hank Paulson’s and Ben Bernanke’s heads as they present their Wall Street bailout package to a clueless band of executives and legislators, it allows onlookers to bask in the only ray of pleasure in an otherwise unpleasant moment—yes, yes, yes, that’s exactly what it is, it’s a great big FAIL, an EPIC FAIL, they’re doing it wrong, and that guy with the sign gets it, and all the rest of us get it, too.


Thanks, Internet, for a great new word and phrase.


New Words for New Times
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  • http://al-ghassani.net Anwar Al-Ghassani


    Great. Breathtaking, witty and up to date with the spirit of our times.

    Oh, yes, "Epic Fail", that´s poetry!

    Let me also tell you how much I appreciate your other writings.

    And  WebProNews is a great medium, one of the top in new media and technologies. I do use some of your materials in my courses.

    Dr. Anwar Al-Ghassani

    Iraqi poet

    Professor of Computer-Mediated Communication and Internet

    University of Costa Rica

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