Why are geeky words either obscurely spiritual to describe people, or outwardly aggressive to describe tech?
From my copywriting feed (feel free to subscribe, to the right of this page, scroll down a bit, there you are) comes an article on ‘Life’s a pitch say advertising mavens‘. Maven. Hmmm, maven. Swill that around a bit, sniff its bouquet. What a strange word. It sounds more like a small Welsh village than a person. I only came across it fairly recently at a conference on word-of-mouth brand avocacy. While everyone accepted it unflinchingly I desperately concealed my panic at not actually knowing what the word meant. Now I know: it’s a Yiddish word to describe someone with special knowledge. And now you do too. You’re a maven maven.
It’s the same with guru. I used to be called an HTML guru. Then I became a design guru. Now I’m apparently a copywriting guru. Yes, I seem to get called these things but I’m not, as the dictionary puts it, ‘a preceptor giving personal religious instruction’. I just tell people where to put hyphens and apostrophes whereas once I told them not to use ten different fonts on a page or how to close href tags.
What’s wrong with ‘expert’ or ‘specialist’ or ‘authority’? It doesn’t need to be veiled in pseudo-spiritualism.
So much for people. Now things. The other day I was doing the Guardian crossword – the easy one, not the hard one, I can’t do the hard one – and a clue was ‘mesh’, seven letters. Not ‘matrix’ or ‘web’ then. ‘System’ didn’t fit. No, it was ‘lattice’. Now there’s a good word to describe the web. It conjures images of apple pie or maybe a nice Melton Mowbray porkie, not huge dirty great spiders. Let’s call it the World Wide Lattice. And the Radio 4 Today programme once tried calling the slash in a lattice address ‘stroke’, so instead of bbc.co.uk SLASH Radio 4 SLASH Today, it was all stroking. Nice.
Maven, guru, matrix, mesh, net, slash. These words are the essence of geekdom. Geeks like spirituality yet conversely they also want it peppered with violence. Graphic novels exude this, as do a lot of manga films, of which Akira and Ghost in the Shell are probably the best-known examples. So does this mean they see people as spiritual but technology as violent perhaps? Or are they all adolescent males?
Join the Friendly Ghost. Keep things nice and simple. Nice is apple pies and stroking. Simple is experts and specialists. Chuck out the gurus, away with your mavens, we don’t want to be trapped in a web, we all just want to be Friendly Ghosts. In the Shell.