New York’s Too-Hip Times

Well, the gray lady has successfully shaken off its stodgy rep. A little too successfully it would appear.

The Times’s grammar, usage, and style cop, Philip B. Corbett, writes today that the paper’s staff have overused the word “hipster.” According to Corbett, the “hipster” tag found its way into the Times more than 250 times last year. Dump it, he says, and work a little harder to think of alternative words to use in articles about, well, umm, contemporary beatniks? Bohemians? Freethinkers? New Age travelers?

Noting that the estimable Oxford English dates the word back to the ‘40s, Corbett writes:

Our latest infatuation with “hipster” seems to go back several years, perhaps coinciding in part with the flourishing of more colloquial (and hipper) blogs on our Web site. In 1990 we used the word just 19 times. That number rose gradually to about 100 by 2000, then exploded to 250 or so uses a year from 2005 on.

Then there’s the Brooklyn connection: our archive confirms that Kings County is the very center of hipsterdom. Ninety-six Times pieces in the past year that included the word “hipster” also mentioned Brooklyn, edging out even once-hip Manhattan, which had 87 overlapping mentions.

Corbett says it might have lost its “freshness” as a term and questions how “precise a meaning it conveys.” Fair comment. But living in New York, one wonders if the increase in the use of the word simply reflects the sharp rise in the number of people it describes, however imprecisely? Last time I brushed my carefully-coiffed-so-as-to-look-effortless mess of curls from my eyes, it seemed the city was swamped.

If the pattern is here to stay, we should probably take Corbett’s advice and think of some alternative descriptors. Any suggestions?

And, while we’re at it, are there other words we overuse? And what might be their alternatives?

I’ll own up to overusing the word “meme” on the Campaign Desk blog. Your turn.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.