Tuesday, May 25, 2010

If You Can't Use SF Terms Correctly, Don't Use Them at All

Buzzwords bug me. In my job as a communications specialist, I do my best to discourage and avoid them whenever possible.

Even worse is when a word, generally something that has formerly been obscure, is flung into the public spotlight, seized by marketers, business types, coolhunters, and yeah, sometimes well-intentioned readers who misinterpret the word or phrase, and is then used incorrectly, polluting its meaning among the minds of the public.

Worst of all is when a term from speculative fiction is abused in this fashion.

"Tween" has been a victim of this trend. It started shortly after Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies catapulted Tolkien's masterpiece back into mainstream consciousness and someone, somewhere seized on this little piece of hobbit vocabulary.

And I hate it.

Which is not to say that I hate the word tween in and of itself. What bugs me is how it has been so massively misapplied and how widely it's used.

You can't turn on the TV or go into a mall these days with out banging into some piece of marketing or throwaway pop culture commentary referring to tweens. Problem is, those who are employing the word are referring to children, usually between the ages of 10 and 14, which is exactly not what Tolkien was referring to when he invented the word.

Anyone who actually paid attention to what Tolkien wrote (and I'm not talking about the hyper obsessive types who can tell you exactly how many days' walk it is from Beorn's Hall to Dale) knows that tween is a term hobbits use for a halfling in his or her 20's. It's a time that's seen by hobbits as a second part of adolescence, probably due to the fact that hobbits tend to live longer than the average human.

In the real world, because medical science, lifestyle and diet have extended the modern lifespan usually into the 80's, and because these days many people in the developed world who are in their 20's are in an extended phase of adolescence (at least compared to previous generations, since they tend to be still in the process of getting an education, without major financial commitments like homes of their own, without permanent relationships or children, and often without careers), the term tween quite accurately applies, and let's face it, probably should be used.

10-14-year-olds, however, do not fit the definition of Tolkien's invented word. Rather, the term that's been used for this group up until very recently should be brought back: pre-teen.

Sadly, I doubt mainstream marketers and opinion pushers will come to their senses any time soon. The misuse of tween is something I'll have to do my best to ignore for the time being.

So what other SF words or phrases do you think have been misused by mainstream pop culture?
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