I challenged myself this morning to write off-topic, using a set of strictly-2014 fifty-cent and five-dollar words.
Inspired by Katie Friel’s piece, “Look at the ridiculous words being added to 2014 Merriam-Webster Dictionary” in Austin CultureMap, I set my goal: Write a short story for our times, using the oddest additions to Webster’s this year that Friel noted, including
- freegan (my WordPress editor has not yet caught up with a few of these, as it’s giving me the dreaded red underscore here)
- spoiler alert
- steampunk (had to look that one up)
- baby bump
- digital divide
- crowdfunding (my WordPress editor is still clueless—another red underscore)
- social networking
- gamification (and another red underscore from the editor)
- big data
- Yooper (unless you’re a resident of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, you may not be familiar with that one, plus a big red underscore)
- catfish (and you always thought this was merely a delicious bottom-feeding Southern-fried dinner)
by Jann Alexander
It was still pre-dawn. The city hadn’t begun to buzz yet when Norma clocked in, pulled on her rubber gloves, tied her apron, and dragged the heavy load of weekend food scraps outside to the alley dumpster. There she glanced warily at the scavengers waiting nearby. “Here ya go, fellows, leftover turducken from the annual overeating contest, still fresh for the homeless.” Damn vultures, she scowled to herself. Can’t they get a job like I did?
From the gloom in the alley, a young woman stepped forward. “I’m not homeless. I’m freegan.” She stepped back in line to wait her turn. None of the others looked at her.
“Well woo-hoo I’m a Yooper,” muttered one in a dirty backwards Cubs cap.
“Hey! Isn’t there any poutine?” yelled the guy with no shirt and mangled dreadlocks, as Norma disappeared back inside. His English was gnarly with a French accent thrown in.
The young woman stepped up, decisively, and opened the bag. Someone has to take charge, she thought. The others crowded around. She was a bit worried this could become a free-for-all (well, it already was) and not in the social networking sense. Thinking back to the latest gamification campaign she’d run at the agency, she said brightly, “Hey! Let’s make this fun! There’s enough here to eat for a week. We’ll go in order. First one: If you like sci-fi, step up.”
They all looked puzzled. One young guy said shyly, “I read steampunk exclusively.” Then the others rushed her for the bag, knocking her backwards, and she reeled away, nearly hitting the pavement before she caught herself one-handed and pushed herself back up, breathless. “Didn’t you all notice the baby bump?” she yelled. “Shit.”
By then the others were ripping the bag apart, and ripping the turducken apart, while Cubs Cap sneered Yooper in her direction as Dreadlocks kept mumbling poutine, poutine, poutine and it was starting to look ugly. She took a few more steps away from the mayhem and turned, heading toward the main boulevard, where daylight was beginning to edge out the glow of the streetlights. She slowed her pace, then heard footsteps behind her. The voice of the homeless steampunk reader called out, “You okay, Freegan”?
Mildy panicked, she turned towards her office. She’d be the first one in, she calculated, at this hour, so no cover there if that guy was still following her. She walked faster, crossed an empty intersection without glancing at the Don’t Walk sign, ducked inside the first brightly lit coffee shop she saw.
That’s when she sighed in a vast exhale of relief. All around her, tables were occupied by hipsters whose faces were lit by a blue-white glow, staring into laptop screens, one hand on a cup of coffee, one to a table. There weren’t any open tables at all. “Talk about the digital divide,” she said under her breath.
She ordered a grande decaf latte with three pumps of vanilla and noticed Steampunk pushing the door open, looking around for her. Instinctively she sat down at the nearest table and began chatting with its occupant as though in deep conversation.
“Mind if I sit here? There are no other tables. I’m Kelsea, on my way to work, just wanted to grab a latte and think about the big day I have coming up. We’re doing this crowdfunding campaign for a new client, and I’m charge of getting all the big data together, and frankly it’s overwhelming, I mean there’s so much out there and I just need some time to make sense of it all before I hit the decks like the fangirl they think I am since they just made me team leader and . . . “ she trailed off. This guy, about her age, not bad-looking, a dark sheaf of straight hair swooped down over one eye, seeming like the kind of dude who’d understand what she was talking about and previously absorbed in whatever was on his MacBook Air screen, was now watching her a bit too intently. His face was like a mass of sticky spaghetti noodles, puzzled and expectant all at once.
“Kelsea? Nice name. I was just checking in with my tweeps. I added more than 450 followers with one viral post yesterday. Used the perfect hashtag, after weeks of A/B testing. Of course I’m sure some of them are catfish. Looking at that now. Anyway, sure, share my table. No problem. Nice to meet you. I’m Jacob.” And he reached across the table, to shake her hand, she thought, but instead handed her a MOO card.
“Like that one?” he asked. “If not just pick one of these, I’ve got hundreds of them.” And like a magician, he arrayed dozens in a smooth fan on the table.
Kelsea said, “Excuse me. I think my latte is ready.” And she pushed her chair back, scanning the room for Steampunk as she grabbed her coffee from the countertop. No sign of him in here. So she paused, stirred her drink mindlessly, wondered if she really wanted to go back to Jacob’s table. Not.
She felt Jacob’s eyes following her out the door and willed herself not to look back or offer him any other encouragement. Next thing you know he’d be asking me to friend him on Facebook, she thought darkly. Then I’d just have to unfriend him later. After all, I am married. Even if my baby bump isn’t too obvious yet.
She rubbed her belly fondly at that, stepping out on the street and heading towards her office. At the next corner, a familiar voice called out, “Hey Freegan, looks like you’re okay. Good deal. Wanted to talk over Homunculus with you, did you read it? Never saw that part coming, you know, where Narbondo . . . ”
Steampunk. Not giving up easily, Kelsea thought. She stopped him with a loud, firm command. “Spoiler alert! Do not say anything more! I haven’t read it.” She fixed her eyes directly on his and stared him down til he looked away.
Steampunk was undeterred. “Okay, no worries.” He held his hands out and down, palms facing her, in a sign of supplication. “Wanna get some pho? If you’re buying, that is.” He smiled bashfully.
Pha, you idiot, she thought, it’s pronounced pha. She turned abruptly.
Her heart racing a bit, she hustled down the street into the office lobby, tapping her foot impatiently for the elevator. She swept inside it and gave herself a mental makeover before its doors opened seven floors later into the agency lobby. Her voice echoed around the hallways as she burst in, commanding:
“Guys! Good morning! And what a morning so far—meet me in the red lounge in 10 everyone, for our team selfies of the week—and bring your A game!” ♣
What are your favorite vocabulary discoveries?