Aussie Life

Aussie Language

11 September 2021

9:00 AM

11 September 2021

9:00 AM

The New York Times has chosen a word to describe what happens to people under Covid restrictions: ‘languishing’. Under lockdown conditions the NYT says that instead of flourishing, as they should, people are ‘languishing’. (And bear in mind that New York has fewer Covid restrictions at the moment than either Sydney or Melbourne!). The word is an old one. It came into English from Anglo-Norman French and is recorded from 1325. At the heart of this word ‘languishing’ is the idea of ‘drooping in spirits, feeling dejected’. Behind the Old French word is a Latin source word that means ‘to feel faint’. The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (written for people who are learning English as a second language) says that ‘languishing’ describes ‘someone who is required to stay in a place where they are unhappy’. It gives the example of someone ‘languishing in jail’. If that sounds to you like the house arrest of lockdown – you are languishing. In his NYT article, Adam Grant writes that to transcend languishing we should try starting with what ‘small wins’ such as the tiny triumph of figuring out a whodunnit or tackling a crossword puzzle. But there’s an even better cure – it involves our state politicians waking up and finding a better way to fight Covid than hurting millions of people.

Could there be an attack by a violent ‘incel’ extremist in Australia? ASIO Director-General, Mike Burgess, used the word ‘incel’ for the first time in March in his annual threat assessment. Since then, Britain’s worst mass shooting in eleven years has been committed by 22-year-old Jake Davidson in Plymouth. He shot six people, including his own mother, and then shot himself. He called himself an ‘incel’ and was a follower of the ‘incel movement’. This word ‘incel’ is a portmanteau word—it packs two words into one: ‘involuntary’ and ‘celibate’. The word was coined in 1993 by a Canadian university student (known only by her first name, Alana) as part of a research project. The website she established was then taken over by someone else when she stopped participating in the online project. Once she departed the word she had coined ‘incel’ was rapidly taken over by angry men— unable to find a romantic or sexual partner and blaming women for their loneliness. They took their frustrations out online, and in doing so created a dark sub-culture. Their websites and networks took to blaming women for all their troubles and their depression, and so morphed into wanting to punish women. From the 2010s onwards the ‘incel’ sub-culture became more focussed on violence based on self-pity and hatred. So, who does this sort of sub-culture appeal to? Well, Jake Davidson’s mother had warned police that she was concerned about her son’s mental health. So, it seems those most likely to be drawn into the resentment and misogyny of the ‘incel’ worldview (and who then act it out violently) are likely to be those suffering from mental health issues. But in the anarchic, unregulated, ungoverned online world there seems to be no way to stop this sort of thing.

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