Friday, November 9, 2012

"uber" users

A short tirade against journalistic pretention

It’s fun to go to the newsagent on Saturdays and buy two newspapers, even with that niggling guilt about how many trees died for my reading. There’s the West for the ads, the sport and the TV guide, and there’s the Oz for most other things. How comforting it is to know that all that reading is ahead of me.
But in recent times my weekend reading has been spoilt, not by neighbourhood interruptions (although Mr Whippy is really annoying – have you noticed how Green Sleaves never gets to the chorus? One of these days you’ll read in the police reports about some musician who is up for murdering a Mr Whippy driver while screaming “Get to the F%$&ing chorus!”).
No, the new blight on weekend reading is in the paper itself: the hideous use of Germanic language. If I have to read another “uber” or “zeitgeist” or “schadenfreude” in the weekend Oz – that’s it, they can shove it. I used to think Gen X and Y language was annoying. You know, all those pathetic attempts at emphasis through the use of “So” and “Totally”, which usually end up in the clumsiest of split infinitives. But the “uber” users are far more annoying.
“So what’s so bad about appropriating German?” I hear you ask. We’ve been using a pile of French terms for years; when we describe detective films, it’s “film noir” and the characters in them are steeped in “sang-froid”. When we’re suffering a philosophical malaise it’s called “ennui”, and theatre contains things like “mis en scenes” and “dues ex machines”. 
            But those German terms just don’t sound right, that’s all. There’s not enough Latin in them to figure them out without a dictionary. And they’re clumsy; there’s no elegance in them. Imagine if Midnight Oil had decided to use a bit of German when they wrote The Power and The Passion: “Whoh Oh the power and the passion, Whoh Oh the…Zeitgeist” sounds silly. And think of all the English songs that borrow French as opposed to German. It’s about fifty to one, and that one is a saccharin atrocity by Elvis Presley called Wooden Heart.
            Perhaps it’s to do with association – war-mongering, over-efficiency, no sense of humour and other ethnic generalisations that go with my sense of what is German. But I know those stereotypes are exaggerated; when I went to Germany I stayed with people who were always late, very messy and laughed all the time. Mind you, it was the seventies and we were young and every German I knew was trying not to be German.
             I think I dislike the “uber” users because it just sounds pretentious. Yeah I know, what’s wrong with pretention, it’s what irony is based upon, and it’s what most actors do – pretend. But no, when actors and comedians pretend they do it within the parameters of performance; the audience arrive wanting to believe, willing victims of a planned conceit. When someone chucks ‘schadenfreude” into a paragraph it’s a shock, we don’t read on with any kind of fluency. We have to stop and think about why the writer made that decision. Did they use that word because there is no English equivalent? Perhaps there isn’t - delight in others’ misfortune can’t really be described in English with one word. “Spite” and “bitchiness”, while excellent words, don’t really cut it.
All the same, I can’t help feeling that this use of German is elitist; it separates the user from the masses. I mean really, if I go to my neighbour Trevor’s house to boast about how his footy team (The Dockers) have been slaughtered once again and say, “Hey Trev, 13 points to 130, Ha Ha. If only you could feel my schadenfreude”, things could get very awkward.
            So, what alternatives can those columnists use other than clumsy Germanic words? Well, it’s a bit like the youth who have to say, “I so want…” as opposed to something more poetic like “I’d be delighted to have…” It’s laziness. Users of “uber” have run out of descriptors for things formidable. They’ve been told to use fewer adjectives (fair enough) yet at the same time they can’t think of a concrete way of describing anything.
            But, more important, it puts them into a class of people who say hideous things like “clearly” before launching into a contentious argument that is anything but clear, or “quelle horreur” (whoops, French words) instead of finding a truly sarcastic way to feign fright.
And finally, at the risk of sounding racist (or is it nationalist?), one has to wonder what kind of people would want to invent a term that describes a person’s delight in another’s misfortune.