The Departures Modern Glossary November 2012

Bendik Kaltenborn

Ammon Shea defines the terms that define us now.

Purple State

A U.S. state with a citizenry of mixed political composition.

The color purple is known for several things—long-held associations with royalty, for starters—but more recently, purple has picked up a political hue, denoting a state that has a mix of left-wing (blue) and right-wing (red) allegiances, such as Ohio and Florida. This designation began in the early 2000s, but the phrase has picked up considerable steam in the years since and is now standard parlance in (nuanced) political discourse.


A self-portrait, especially one taken for the purpose of posting online.

It is often quite difficult to prognosticate with any degree of accuracy the likely success of new terms entering the English language, but it is hard to imagine great things for “selfie.” Few words can wear the suffix “-ie” with even a shred of dignity, and, perhaps worse, this one risks falling into the ephemeral wasteland of social-media terms, which is already littered with the husks of failed phrases of yestermonth (Top 8, HMU, etc.).

Green Tape

Environmental regulations of an excessive or onerous nature.

The word “green” began referring to the environment in the early 1970s, and now there are green parties, technologies, causes and more others than you can count. These things all tend to carry a positive (or neutral) connotation, but “green tape” describes the almost inevitable backlash. The phrase has a ways to go before it approaches the ubiquity of “red tape” (which has been in use in English as a pejorative for almost 300 years), but it has already eclipsed the use of “white tape” (which was slang for gin a few hundred years ago).


One who is past the traditional age associated with adolescence but retains many of its characteristics.

Given that the words “adolescent” and “adult” have been part of our language for hundreds of years, one might very well wonder why it took such a long time to mash the two words into this neatly descriptive package. No word more appropriately portrays full-grown men who won’t stop playing video games long enough to start looking for a job.


Photos of particularly fit women posted on social media and intended to serve as inspiration.

“Fitspo” originated as a healthy alternative to “thinspo,” online photos of thinness that are meant to inspire but are widely viewed as a glorification of eating disorders. Few words actually originate with as noble an aim as “fitspo,” but other such examples do exist: “Scofflaw” was born in 1924 as the result of a contest held by a Boston newspaper to find a good neologism with which to describe (and shame) the “lawless drinker” during Prohibition.