The Internet Chews Up Language And Spits It Out

Jonathan Bernstein laments the media’s overuse of the word “establishment”:

It’s just lazy journalism. Parties have groups, and factions, and individuals, and certainly those who are in and those who are out…oh, I suppose they can have something that’s an establishment, too (I do think there was a foreign policy establishment in the 1960s, for example), but more likely you’re not telling us anything at all by calling one of these factions or groups or individuals “establishment.” I know I’ve hit on this point before, but alas the examples of it are all over the place and just as useless as ever.

I’m never one to push back against charges that the media is lazy, but I think part of what destroyed the word is that the internet exponentially speeds up the half-life of popular jokes and phrases. The internet allows more people to publicly share thoughts, and that means more people are publicly using the word “establishment” as they see fit. With people being exposed to the word from a wider range of sources, the definition is bound to eventually stretch to the point of uselessness. In an ideal world, some kind of benevolent language council of elders would phase out the word and adopt two new ones to take on the different extremes of the old word’s range of definitions.


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