#93: 5 new terms (that I made up)
In May 2020 I wrote about three terms I’d made up after living with Avi in lockdown for three months: “tiny touches” (when someone you live with is touching you a very small amount—beloved by some, loathed by others); “in-between energy” (when someone you live with can’t commit to whatever they should be doing and have a vaguely listless, procrastinating vibe about them); and “bodega santa” (when someone goes to the bodega for one or two necessities and comes back with unnecessary surprises). I love making up terms…. I blame my interest in Tumblr in the late aughts.
Today, instead of an essay, I have five more. With the exception of one (Starr-Nicholas effect), I made them all up in the last year to describe various experiences I’ve had at home and online. As soon as I gave names to these phenomena, they became more apparent to me, almost unavoidable. I wonder if you’ll feel the same way.
5 new terms
Elastic mood: When a mood is so overwhelming you mistake the intensity of it for the longevity of it.
An elastic mood is most liable to occur when you’re spiraling about something—your work, your relationship, your social life, your health. If the anxiety you're experiencing is profound enough, it can feel all-encompassing, as if you’ve felt that way forever. And so you rewrite history, picking and choosing examples that support this delusion—anything to justify how fucked up you feel. Avi and I came up with this when we noticed how often the other would express anxiety in a very sweeping way (even saying things like “It’s just been a tough few months…”) when actually we were happy and chill just a few days prior. Falling for the trick of an elastic mood is kind of like the pathological version of exaggerating a detail in a story: Sure, you can say you were on hold for 20 minutes, but it felt like an hour, so you tell “the emotional truth” (as Avi calls it). When you’re in an elastic mood, despairing about your entire life, rather than, say, the last week, or even the last day, can feel like the emotional truth, but actually you’re just being textbook-dramatic.
Ex: She had writer’s block for two days and convinced herself she hadn’t written anything good in months and had no talent. Classic elastic mood.
The Starr-Nicholas effect: When something so perfect or coincidental happens that, if it were in a movie, you would say it was unrealistic or, at the very least, a bit on the nose.
Avi and I named this term after the intersection of Starr St and St. Nicholas Ave in Bushwick, where we first met as random roommates. We never noticed how twee these street names sounded together until we looked up at the signs when we were walking by one snowy day around Christmas-time. We happened to be falling in love and everything around us that morning seemed almost sickeningly sweet. The signs were the nail in the coffin. It was too much! It was corny! Which is a funny thing to say about reality, because usually we use the word corny to critique things that feel a little fraudulent, and how can an intersection be fraudulent? In the years since, we’ve used this term whenever reality somehow outdoes fiction. It happens all the time in the spheres of Hollywood, tech, and politics, all uniquely prone to self-parody. The next time you watch a movie and want to roll your eyes at how nobody would say that. Consider that, actually, they might.
Ex: I still can’t believe America elected a power-hungry psycho named, literally, “Trump.” Classic Starr-Nicholas.
Logical cover story: A logical framework created to justify a choice or belief that obfuscates (or outright hides) the root emotion that motivates the choice or belief.
I first named this fallacy when Avi suggested we bring some of our leftover cinnamon rolls to our neighbors last Christmas. I replied I thought that would be weird, maybe gross—putting days-old cinnamon rolls on little paper plates and leaving them at people’s doorstep. I said it exactly like that, in a way that suggested my resistance was purely logical, but once he started pushing back, I realized it was actually emotional: If we decided to do it, I suspected the endeavor would fall on me, and I didn’t want to go through the social trouble of it, which made me feel ashamed. In no more than five seconds, I’d felt all that and come up with a reason to get out of it that didn’t make me feel like a bad or whiny person. This process wasn’t even conscious. When I expressed my doubts about the idea, I think I really believed them. This is the risk of a logical cover story. Your commitment to it can obscure you from yourself. When I realized what I’d done I confessed to Avi that actually, I processed his suggestion like a chore he was adding to my to-do list. He understood right away, and instead of having a dumb disagreement that I wasn’t actually invested in, we talked about why his comment made me feel that way, and why I felt compelled to hide that. This was such a small, inconsequential moment, but ever since then I’ve become more sensitive to logical cover stories, spotting them everywhere. They might be the scourge of the entire internet.
Ex: People on the internet are fighting about whether it’s more ethical to make workers go to an office or work from home, but I think a lot of people are just coming up with a logical cover story for what they personally want to do.
Expert cosplay: When a creator, especially on TikTok or YouTube, projects expertise via aesthetics—an authoritative voice, academic language, clever editing—to make a convincing argument that might otherwise seem biased, incomplete, or narrow.
The inspiration for this one is a YouTube essayist called Nerdwriter. I actually really enjoy his channel, but I’m occasionally suspicious of the way he presents subjective ideas as facts, relying on a tone and cadence that suggests he’s an expert on topics he probably recently learned about on the internet. I often find his arguments convincing when I’m watching, and then later struggle to recall exactly what he was arguing. Or, I’ll disagree completely and still find his argument compelling due to how it’s narrated and cut together. A recent example would be a video he made about faces on a big screen, where he blamed the over-representation of action movies in theaters on our assumption that only action (versus drama) is worthy of “the big screen.” Because I have a different view on who and what’s to blame, it felt obviously incomplete. But just as often I don’t have a sense of what the counterargument would be when I watch his videos, and so tend towards believing his framing. But should I? This is the risk of unstructured, online learning. I don’t think Nerdwriter is even close to the most worrisome offender of expert cosplay, by the way, just a good example of its subtlety.
Ex: I saw a TikTok about how sitting isn’t actually that bad for you, but it might have been expert cosplay.
Bitter bias: The tendency to moralize the work or actions of people who make us feel inferior in some way.
What’s important about the bitter bias is that it’s unethical and dishonest. Of course, sometimes we moralize people’s behavior because it’s actually immoral, but I think just as often we refashion it that way so that we can claim the moral high ground, thereby countering our feelings of inferiority. It’s why people get a little too excited to cancel someone who sparks envy. Insecurity is such a powerful and shame-inspiring emotion that it’s very easy to drive it underground and underestimate how much it’s shaping our opinions and worldviews. Jealousy, fear, self-loathing, alienation—all these can express themselves through bitter bias. It’s a good reminder to stress-test your ill feelings towards something or someone before you accept them as sound.
Ex: Everyone’s saying Jane’s book is shallow and derivative but I think it’s just bitter bias. That book is genius!
Okay tell me…do these resonate or no? Turning on comments today because I want to hear! I also want to know if you’ve made up any terms in a similar vein. I just feel it in my bones that some of you are freaks for nomenclature.
My favorite article I read last week was “When Are You Really an Adult?” by Julie Beck for The Atlantic about the elusive nature of adulthood. (Especially intrigued by how modern-day understandings of adulthood are still shaped by the 1950’s. I’m continually surprised by what an anomaly that post-war era was, culturally, and how seldom we treat it that way.) Friday’s 15 things also included my favorite Thai takeout in New York, a podcast about marriage, a fascinating ‘90s movie about uptown socialites, and more. The Rec of the Week was best songs that give you a spring feeling, which I’ll be making into a playlist to share in this week’s 15 things.
Excited to have Cat Cohen on the podcast this week. Her Netflix special The Twist…? She’s Gorgeous, came out last Tuesday and it’s incredible. Episode goes live Tuesday 9 a.m.
Have a nice week!