On Language // Excuse US for Living

On Language
// Excuse Us for Living

On Language

My Pet Peeves: “Existential” & “Geopolitical”

What’s Yours?


Philip Fontana

Pet peeves.

Excuse us for living, but no matter our age, we all have our little “pet peeves” along the way of life. It sounds petty to complain about such small things in this uncertain political time in which we live; not to mention the horrific natural disasters around the nation and the world, along with acts of terrorism and gun violence. – – I’m depressing myself just writing this.

That being said, putting all that aside (impossible), there must be things, some smaller things, that bother you. I’d be very interested to hear what your “pet peeve” is in the comments section below! You might, for example, hate bloggers like me who would better spend their time reading instead of writing! – – I’ll vote for that one myself! What I have in mind are a few things regarding language usage largely in the news media which have annoyed me in recent years. I thought the time I spend writing this “Excuse Us…” might be well spent researching them.

Philosophy Department: You are Here...But why?

My number one nomination as something that drives me nuts is the use of the term “existential,” usually “existential threat” or “existential crisis,” but never-the-less “existential…,” with this or that tacked on! – – “Existential problem, existential menace, existential pandemic.” (That last one is a whopper!) – – You name it! It’s “existential” whatever it may be. And the egregious offenders are the news shows (that used to be called “news programs”) coming out of the mouths of the hosts and their guests, not affectionately referred to as “talking heads.”

The term “existential” is not only misused but overused and complicated by its roots in the philosophical term, “existentialism.” Such phrases as “existential threat” and “existential crisis” are used more as clichés, as intensifiers much like the misuse of the word “literally.” Use of the term “existential,” apparently, came from the German form “Existentialismus” in 1919 and came to the English language in 1941 by dropping the “us.” To oversimplify, existentialism is a 19th-20th century philosophy. It questions “how and whether life has meaning, and why we exist,” stressing the importance of “freedom and will instead of reason in confronting problems.” (Anyone remember their college Philosophy 101 or Political Theory 101 and the name Jean-Paul Satre?)

And so, the adjective “existential” does have its roots in the philosophical “existentialism.” The word “existential” can be defined as “of or relating to existence.” When, for example, the phrase “existential threat” is used in political discourse, it refers to “a threat to a people’s existence or survival.” The best I can do to sum up this discussion is to say that when the word “existential” is used on the political talk shows, it makes reference “to survival or to the meaning of our lives.” – – Personally, I still think they throw it in for flare, emphasis, as a cliché. It’s a phrase that should be used with more discretion, in my opinion, and not for verbal flourish!

C Geo Prof

My second pet peeve, again from the political talk shows, is the use of the term “geopolitical.” Now, as a student and teacher of history and political science, I fully understand what they are talking about. But clearly the term is misused and overused. Their use of the term has nothing to do with any geographic aspects whatsoever.

Strictly speaking, at the risk of oversimplification, “geopolitical” refers to “the study or application of the influence of political and economic geography on politics, national power, foreign policy, etc., of a state… or region.” Despite this meaning, speakers misuse the term to make their statements, adding a global flourish to give more importance to their words.

Used correctly, “geopolitical” as an adjective relates to that which “geographical location – – more than culture, history, or ideas – – influences political developments.” In truth, typical uses of the term “geopolitical” in the news media are most often discussing the impact and implications of something globally, perhaps. That’s as close to geography as they get! – – Considerations of geography being far from what the speakers have in mind. Yet, the term “geopolitical” is thrown around, or thrown in, seemingly, for affectation, as a cliché, here once again as in my first pet peeve!

D Size PetPeeves

Excuse us for living, but that feels better! Now I know my annoyance with the use of these terms is justified. The next time I hear them used by people on the news shows I can yell back at the TV with informed, justified confidence! HOW ABOUT YOU???!!! What is a pet peeve or two of yours? I’d be interested to know! Let me know in the comments section below!

Comments: What is your pet peeve(s)?

Online Sources: theaquilareport.com, spectator.co.uk, learnersdictcionary.com, wikipedia.org, carnegieeurope.eu


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