Word of the Week! Neoliberal

Take off your Left/Right/Center political caps, for a moment. Let’s see what “neoliberal” means and when it appeared. It proves a term bigger than politics, if equally disturbing.

This is (to me) a new word, noted by the OED for its first use in 1898. I find the history of how the term got used, and changed over time, fascinating.

Broadly speaking neoliberalism means “various modified or revived forms of traditional liberalism, typically based on belief in free market capitalism and the rights of the individual.”

In my field of writing studies, however, our word has enjoyed much recent usage, to describe how American colleges and universities appear to be more driven today than ever by market pressures. In the crush, the pursuit of knowledge gets put  into a distant second place, if that. Students become consumers and what we produce? A commodity. See our image above, courtesy of IJClark at Flickr.

Over the years I’ve heard Bill Clinton described as the first  modern neoliberal Progressive, and my favorite print publication, Atlantic Monthly, gets derided as neoliberal. It seems that our word only gets employed, by academics anyhow, in a pejorative sense.  Neoliberals get accused of favoring deregulation, weakening unions, harming the environment. I still find the word slippery, used in a haphazard fashion, as do the terms “technocratic” and “neoconservative,” both of which I should explore later.

I’d suggest that students use it carefully to describe a proponent of free markets, de-regulation, and individual rights, with neoliberalism employed as the philosophy.

But the term defies our current (and reductive, even silly) descriptors of conservative and liberal in US life.

Do you have a word or metaphor for this blog?  Send them to me by e-mail (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

Metaphor of the Month! Horse Latitudes

Sopranino cover imageEvery summer, I read something nautical. I’m a mountain and not a water person, but sailing and ships really interest me. The closest I get is from my fishing kayak (and this has been a good fishing year for me). Four years have passed (!) since I did my last nautical metaphor, doldrum.

Part of my interest in ships and sailing involves the riches of vocabulary they bring us. In several books I encountered our rather antique metaphor, another of those terms I’d love to see used more commonly again. As the OED informs us, the term refers to a “belt of calms and light airs which borders the northern edge of the N.E. trade-winds.”  Usually the term simply indicates the literal area, even in our time of steam-ships.

The origin of the term remains unknown to the OED editors. The tales of sailors lightening their load by throwing effigies or actual horses overboard seems a stretch to this landlubber, given the animals’ value. Eating them when becalmed and starving? Possibly, according to a writer at Medium.

Metaphorically, our term suits June and early July well for academics. We are deep in our summer projects, and campus is silent of most student noise. Sometimes we have little bursts of activity; the winds pick up, so to speak. In that area of calm between steady winds, Facilities repairs and builds, plans for the year are laid down. It’s my favorite time of year, even though most summer weeks I work from home.

This summer’s read? Sopranino by Patrick Ellam and Colin Mudie. They designed and sailed the world’s smallest ship–a 19′ sailboat rated for ocean travel–across the Atlantic. It’s a great story told in a light, yes, breezy style from a simpler time than ours. They do run into several sudden calms off South America, in the horse latitudes. They also get robbed in Jamaica, but being charmers, content the crooks with a few dollars. The books remains out of print but old copies are easy to find.

As Summer skims along like a fast racing yacht, I’ll post your entries. Do you have a word or metaphor for this blog?  Send them to me by e-mail (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

Image from the 2011 edition.

Word of the Week! Hagiography

I just finished One Minute to Midnight, Michael Dobbs’ definitive and minute-by-minute account of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The book is so well written and uses sources so fairly that I want to consider parts of it for a first-year writing textbook I’ll be writing in the coming year.

In any case, I came across this sentence by Dobbs, that “[Kennedy’s friend and aide] Dave Powers makes no mention of Meyer or any other presidential girlfriend in his hagiographic memoir of JFK.”

JFK was no saint; any reading of honest biographies would discover his many very human flaws, including a number of adulterous affairs. Yet some works about his life, ended too soon and so tragically, fall into the realm of our Word of the Week.  At its root, as the OED tells us, a hagiography was a biography of a saint. I trudged through these as a Catholic teen in mandatory Church-history classes. Being a teen, I zoned out, though the martyrdoms stuck with me longest. “Grilled on a griddle! Cool.”  Thus the brain of teenaged boy.

The Saints, of course, led faultless lives and were models of piety and restraint.

That brings us to works such as the Powers memoir and others that cast a person’s life as perfect; it’s the second OED definition and often how we use our word today. A hagiography is suspect and looked down upon by serious scholars.

Students, learn to smell hagiography when it turns up under your shoe. Then find better sources. That’s as it should be. We can still admire what two imperfect men, John F. Kennedy and his rival Nikita Khrushchev, did to back the world away from the precipice of nuclear war, after the Soviet leader tried to sneak weapons into Cuba and got caught, Red (so to speak) handed.

Praise is one thing. Hagiography another, and it has little role in academic reasoning and writing.

As Summer races along I’ll post most weeks. Do you have a word or metaphor for this blog?  Send them to me by e-mail (jessid -at- richmond -dot- edu) or leaving a comment below.

See all of our Metaphors of the Month here and Words of the Week here.

Public Domain image of our Cold War rivals courtesy of Pingnews at Flickr.