Remember when we just had snow? Or, at worst, a blizzard? This winter brought two weird neologisms: First, the “snowpocalypse” (alternately “snowocalypse“; allegedly coined in Seattle a year ago, but only recently running riot and used on Fox News). Now, the snowicane — actually used right out of the gate by Accuweather and other mainstream outlets.
There is at least some justification for the new cognate: Hurricane-force winds predicted for the current snowstorm. The storm has already caused mass power outages and even some traffic deaths. The snowpocalypse was mainly about there being, like, a lot of snow and some inconvenience.
Still: What’s wrong with “blizzard”? We’ve had some that have left three or four feet of snow and killed dozens of people. The Great Lakes Storm of 1913 had hurricane-force winds, but none of the rotogravures thought to make up a word for it.
But they didn’t need to. Modern news outlets, on the other hand, endeavor to feed both the public’s thirst for novelty and the Internet’s love of unique keywords. If your made-up word or term, or one you caught early and took up quickly, takes off, your item may be borne aloft with it, and be rewarded with a gust of clicks. Also, using the new word makes you look au courant. That’s why, we can predict with confidence, the New York Times will have a story about vajazzling within two weeks.
There’s another angle that’s weird to us: Treating rough weather like it’s some kind of new thing. Maybe it’s a legacy of global warming panic, or our tendency to regard any untoward circumstance, or even everyday dangers like the choking hazard of hot dogs, as if it were an unprecedented menace. Local TV news shows treat even summer cloudbursts like poison gas attacks or invasions from Mars, requiring breaking updates throughout the program. We swear to you it was not like this in our younger days.
We fear henceforth we’ll be hearing about “rain hemorrhages” when it comes down hard or “heatdowns” when it gets over 80 degrees. Children and weak-minded adults will be terrified to go outside, lest the weather suddenly change and place them in mortal danger. Our ancestors, who walked two miles through flood waters just to fetch a pail of milk, will regard us from the other side of eternity with shame.
Maybe we should make up words that minimize these events. Enjoy your squallapalooza!