Patrons, Volkswagens, and Metaphors

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January 24, 2017 by libroshombre


The “word” of the year for 2016 is “dumpster fire,” according to the American Dialectic Society (ADS). A recent article said ADS “aims to crown the word or phrase that defined the year and saw widespread or innovative usage.” I know I recently wrote that “post-truth” was the word of the year, but that was from Words-of-the-year abound.

ADS new words chairman Ben Zimmer said, “In pessimistic times, dumpster fire served as a darkly humorous summation of how many viewed the year’s events.” Apparently “the metaphor first gained prominence among sports-radio hosts … and eventually seeped its way into the mainstream.” My Dictionary of Literary Terms copy says a metaphor is “a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to a person, idea, or object to which it is not literally applicable.”

Some people don’t appreciate agile articulation, but they can learn to, as spelled out by “When Ex-cons Change Their Vocabulary, They Stay Out of Jail,” a article by Drake Baer. He wrote that it’s widely accepted theory “that if you change the way you think, you’ll change the way you live,” especially “if the way you used to live included illicit-drug abuse, violence, or other crimes.” Recent Ohio State research “ found that the more prisoners had changed their linguistic habits by the time they were released, the more likely they’d stay out of trouble … Just like you hang out with some friends more than others, people tend to use words in familiar bundles,” or “schemas.”

Criminologists call word bundles that get people into trouble “deviant schemas” that include “a hostile view of people and relationships,” “a preference for immediate rewards,” and “a cynical view of conventional norms.” By learning new, positive vocabularies, convicts are able to better acquire parole and assimilate into normal, noncriminal society. “Learning isn’t just about learning new concepts or new words, but changing the connections between your concepts.”

So with that in mind, what’s up with Volkswagen? Hitler founded the Volkswagen company in 1937 to make affordable cars ($140) for average people. However, in’s recent article, headlined “Volkswagen Is Changing Its Official Language from German to English,” we learned that “VW has grown into a giant international corporation, with a controlling interest in numerous automakers around the world.” The corporate decision-makers decided last December to instruct “bosses to begin exchanging in English, whatever their native language, although factory staff may speak in whatever tongue they choose among themselves.”

That approach leaves many conversational possibilities up in the air. It also raises the question of how the editors of dictionaries decide to include some words in their compilations. A Washington Post article from last September by Amy Wang noted that new words easily find entry into English, but the Internet has sped up evolution of the language while documenting new terms more thoroughly than never before.

We might be surprised how long “squee” and “YOLO” endure. Wang said “squee” “has represented ‘a high-pitched squealing or squeaking sound’ since as early as 1865. “YOLO,” or “you only live once,” “can be traced back to a 19th-century English translation of ‘on ne vit qu’ un fois’ in French novelist Honore de Balzac’s “Le Cousin Pons.’”

Librarians have professional slang, too and none’s as contentious among librarians as to how to properly refer to the people who utilize libraries. Are they “patrons” (high-faluting), “customers” (too commercial), “users” (sounds like drug abusers), or simply “readers”? What about “client,” “borrower,” or “member”? The debate raged my entire 30-year career and shows no sign of abating. I prefer “patron” for several reasons. It’s applicable to someone coming into the library to rest or meet someone, read newspapers or microfilm, or look at the artwork as well as those wanting to borrow something.

“Patron” is also traditional and a way of indicating that librarians will treat all library visitors with due respect and courtesy. “Courtesy book” was another expression encountered in the Dictionary of Literacy. It defined and explained “the ideals, training, duties, and conduct of persons planning or intending to serve at court in medieval times,” essentially an ancient etiquette book. Our library has a passel of them, and who couldn’t stand being a bit more courteous?


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