Ask any person under the age of 30 about Urban Dictionary and you are likely to get a smile before the answer. Like its Noah Webster predecessor, the “dictionary” teaches us the definition of those words we encounter of which we don’t have an immediate or complete understanding. Unlike these earlier editions (the word “dictionary” is reputed to have been first coined in 1220 in England), this contemporary, online-only version tasks itself largely with explaining the subculture slag of the American variety of the language. Sometimes offensive and often amusing, the crowd-sourced definitions help to make sense of the overused jargon of the hip and trendy among us. One wonders how our progenitors managed to make sense of a world filled with “23 skidoo” and the “cat’s meow” without this handy reference as a guide.
Although the now-outdated vernacular seems quaint to us today, the need to understand what someone else is attempting to communicate hasn’t changed much. As we move further through this summer season, we are all-too familiar with certain headlines, such as historic inflation, unprecedented employment and rising interest rates that do not require explanation. But things like “The Great Resignation” and human “ghosting” are not so familiar. The latter is the case of friends or colleagues of long or short tenure disappearing without notice. The most mature of the lot might send an email or stick a Post-it Note to their monitor: “I’m outta here.” What? Why? Are they OK?
Suicide rates have remained highly elevated, some presume as a residual of the pandemic. When we are ghosted unexpectedly, do we have any obligation to check on the newly self-identified apparition? In a world before virtual relationships, it was harder for the unfriendly “ghost” to disappear without responsibility. Now, the burden is left to others to figure it out.