Our poor attention spans. They have dwindled down to nearly nothing, a phenomenon I suspect is attributable to social media. “Listicles,” like hashtags, tweets and tags, are the offspring of social media and its entertaining cousin, the blog. Yes, I am aware of what that union implies, but if the shoe fits…
What is a listicle? The word is a combination of the words “list” and “article.” If you read anything at all today, you’ll probably read at least one of them.
“5 Reasons House Plants Die”
“11 Things Happy People Do Every Day”
“10 Reasons You Should Suck Up to Your Boss”
…and so on. Listicles are very popular these days, and editors love to see them come across their desks. The reason is quite simple. The writer of an article has about 3 seconds to catch the reader’s attention, or that reader will move on to something else that does. The advent of social media and online “news” sites, in my opinion, has created in us a need to be entertained, and in a hurry. That need for entertainment supersedes our need for depth and accuracy in what we choose to read . Listicles tell us up front what we’re going to get, no surprises.
In fact, research tells us that the reader will likely read the enumerated reasons in a listicle without even reading the supporting text. The subject matter of an article has less to do with snagging the reader’s interest than does the title. If the title suggests that the writer has boiled the subject down to 5 or 10 easy-to-remember steps, it grabs our attention.
I do not like listicles, and I’ll tell you why. I have a better idea; I’ll give you three reasons that I don’t care for them.
1) Listicle is not a word, or at least it was not a word until someone decided to combine two legitimate words to make a third dumb one. I do not like the fact that in recent years, inbred words like “listicle” and “blog” (a marriage of the words "web" and "log") have found their way into the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the Queen Mother of all dictionaries, the only one that really matters to anyone over age 30. It’s a crying shame.
2) As I stated before, the mere fact that we must sell a reader up front with “X” number of reasons for anything, is a sad commentary on our evolving literary habits. What happened to reading for the pure love of reading and discovering something fascinating, buried under all kinds of new words and creative sentence structures?
3) Since I promised to list three reasons that I do not care for listicles, I had to dig deep to come up with a third reason, lest I renege on that promise. This new word could just as easily have been “larticle” or “articlist.” I shudder just typing those two. This practice of combining two legitimate words to make a new illegitimate one brings to mind that annoying Hollywood fad of combining two famous peoples’ names when they make it known that they’re an item. Brangelina. Tomkat. Bennifer.
I suppose this trend of creating new words to describe these social media/instant information phenomena will continue well past the day I die, no matter whether I like it or dislike it. Still, I would like to see the Merriam-Webster dictionary left alone. This may sound silly, but ever since I was a little girl, I’ve had the idea that words had to earn their way into that book. I actually used to read the dictionary when I was a kid. I would wonder about, then research, word derivations (yes, I was the quintessential nerd). I just can’t get comfortable with the thought of words like “listicle” sitting alongside words like “loquacious” and “lethargic.” It’s just wrong, on so many different levels.
I have drawn a mental line in the sand, one that, should it ever be crossed, will mark the last day that I ever refer to my beloved Merriam-Webster.
The day that the combined word-name “Kimye” (Kim K. and Kanye) worms its way into what I consider to be the most respected dictionary in the country will be the day that, sadly, I close it forever. There are just some things from which one can never recover.
Carole Townsend is a Gwinnett author and freelance writer. She writes about family, from both a humorous and poignant perspective. Her newest book, MAGNOLIAS, SWEET TEA AND EXHAUST (July 2014, Skyhorse Publishing) takes a look at NASCAR from a Southern suburban mom’s perspective. She is currently writing her fourth book. Carole has appeared on local and national news and talk shows, including CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates. When not writing, she travels throughout the region, speaking to various civic and literary groups, and advocating for the health and well-being of the family, particularly women and children. For more information, visit www.caroletownsend.com.