On privilege-checking and amazey amazeballs

I have two new posts to report at Macmillan Dictionary Blog. First: Check your privilege and know thy selfie offers some thoughts on the words and phrases of 2013. It includes my own pick, because X, which anticipated the American Dialect Society’s selection.

The focus, though, is on privilege-checking, a phrase that didn’t feature in other WOTY discussions, and remains niche, but whose emergence I’ve found especially interesting:

[C]heck your privilege, described as “one of the great political rallying cries of 2013”, is increasingly used in debates about social justice and power, typically directed at people who are saying something from a position of unconscious privilege.

For example, a middle-class white male might remark on how little abuse there is in social media, not having realised or enquired about its extent for people in less socially powerful positions: he has failed to check his privilege. As the Geek Feminism Wiki puts it, a privileged person “is not necessarily prejudiced (sexist, racist, etc) as an individual, but may be part of a broader pattern of *-ism even though unaware of it”.

Read the rest for further notes on privilege-checking and more familiar WOTY candidates like selfie and -splaining.

*

Is ‘amazeballs’ still amaze? considers a word perhaps more loathed than loved but which shows no immediate signs of going away – indeed, the BBC called it one of 2013’s most overused words.

The BBC article quotes lexicographer Ian Brookes as saying, ‘You know a word has arrived in language when people use it without needing to explain it’ – but in this case I think most people knew what amazeballs meant the first time they heard it. It’s pretty self-explanatory, as are other amaze- coinages like amazetastic, amazetabulous, and amazeroonie (in decreasing order of Google hit count).

The short adjectival form amaze – which gave rise to the neologisms above – also remains common, and is a good example of conversion or zero derivation, where a word’s grammatical category is changed without altering the spelling. Amazeballs and company all testify to our love of language play, and specifically the fun of new words.

Odder even than the word’s productiveness in the linguistic domain is the (true) story of Kellogg’s and Tim Burgess, which I summarise in the post. For older articles you can browse the archives.

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6 Responses to On privilege-checking and amazey amazeballs

  1. Mrs Fever says:

    Tangential to amazeballs: Awesomesauce. What is UP with this word? Ergh.

  2. Nurn says:

    Hi Stan

    Regarding ‘check your privilege': when I first heard it, I assumed that it was the same construction as ‘check your coat’ (as in, leave your privilege at the door; don’t bring it in here), rather than ‘check your privilege’ as in ‘figure out how your privilege has a bearing on what you’re saying/feeling’.

    I remember hearing it a similar construction, when folks were talking about Live Aid (1985), and pop stars ‘checking their ego (at the door)’. (at least that’s what I thought it meant…!?)

    • Stan says:

      Hi Nurn. That’s another way to read the expression, and one I should perhaps have mentioned. It’s not how I routinely parse it, but I’ve come across that interpretation before. It would be interesting to know how many people read it each way. Apparently Quincy Jones put up a sign saying “Check [or Leave] your ego at the door” in the studio where We Are the World was recorded,

      • John Cowan says:

        A line from a novel: “Check your assumptions. In fact, check your assumptions at the door.”

      • Stan says:

        John: You prompted me to search for “check it at the door” on Google Books and I found a poem by that name, beginning:

        Check it.
        Check what?
        Check it at-
        Check it where?
        Check it at the door!

        “It” turned out to be a quitter’s attitude.

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