As of April 19, 2004, the estimated number of words in the English language stood at 822,944-and counting, according to the California-based Global Language Monitor (GLM). Take one of those words-perhaps an infrequently used one, like "incurious," which dates back to the 1500s-incorporate it into a widely read media source and let Internet dissemination take over.
Then watch as numerous online headlines reflect an irresistible urge to cross-reference George W. Bush with a well-known simian protagonist of children's books. The resulting new catchphrase: "Incurious George."
Last weekend, GLM released its first Political-sensitivity Quotient (PQ) Index, which the company called "a proprietary algorithm that tracks politically sensitive words and phrases in the media and on the Internet." GLM announced that the word "incuriosity" had recently shot to the top of the index's list of the five political words and phrases it's currently tracking in terms of "frequency, contextual usage and appearance in global media outlets."
GLM president Paul JJ Payack said the word's ascendance particularly accelerated in the days following an April 15 editorial in The New York Times, "The Price of Incuriosity." The piece kicked off with: "Americans knew George W. Bush was an incurious man when they elected him, but the hearings of the 9/11 investigating commission... have brought that fact home in a startling way."
GLM defines "incuriosity" as ""lacking intellectual curiosity' as opposed to "anxious to learn; eager for knowledge; and habitually inquisitive.'"
"I always try to be in the middle here, and I say that [Bush] supporters prefer "steadfast,'" Payack said.
A network of "observers," referred to as "Language Police," sends dozens of tips on words to watch every week to GLM's website. Payack said the aim is to track words that are "loaded" with "emotional attachment."
In "the sound bite culture," Payeck explained, the trick is finding something that can be repeated quickly, but still carries "the whole spectrum of meaning" of the projected point of view.
Also at the top of the PQ Index is "quagmire," which was first widely applied in a war context to Vietnam. Payack said a quick Google search of "quagmire Vietnam" might round up about 50,000 references, whereas "quagmire Iraq" would likely bring up about 100,000. But the word has also taken on a much broader meaning. "During the California recall election, that was being called a quagmire," Payack commented. "Everything that you don't like nowadays is a quagmire."
Payack also noted the omnipresence of "two Americas," a phrase powerful for its many applications, including "rich and poor, liberal and conservative, white and black, religious and non-religious."
Tougher to immediately identify was a pat phrase to describe the concept of U.S. jobs going overseas. Payack maintained that "people use different terminology for the same thing: outsourcing, losing jobs, etc." Although "not so much of a cliché as "two Americas,'" GLM found the "closest one we could find to track was "global outsourcing.'"
(On a related note, Payack gave a nod to John Kerry's "Benedict Arnold CEOs," which, although not currently in the index's top five, he called "an interesting one to track" and "a great way to summarize a political viewpoint.)
Falling in popularity, but still being tracked this month is "war for oil," which Payack said peaked last year in the weeks preceding the Iraq war.
Payack also confirmed covert activism opportunities via the Internet for people who know how to manipulate all-important algorithms. Example: A practice referred to as "Google Bombing" ("setting up a large number of Web pages with links that point to a specific Web site so that the site will appear near the top of a Google search when users enter the link test [WordSpy.com]") has proven popular for users with a wide variety of agendas.
A search of the words "miserable failure" brings up a Google list headed by George W. Bush's biography on the official White House website. (As others get in on the fun, "miserable failure" currently pulls up results showing the same website's bio for Jimmy Carter in second place, followed by MichaelMoore.com and the Online Office Welcome Page for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in third and fourth places, respectively.)
GLM plans to periodically publish its PQ Index as new vocabulary trends emerge-something Payack believes will happen frequently between now and the November elections. (One new word to watch on the horizon: "BushBot.") Additionally, GLM will analyze other aspects of the presidential campaign, including the upcoming debates, from a linguistic point of view.
Payack claimed the GLM's "goal is to be non-partisan. But since there are "two Americas,' whatever we say is looked at through differing prisms. For example, the recent PQ Index release has garnered much negative reaction from the conservative side of the aisle."
In the political war of words, "There's going to be a bitter divide," he concluded.