As many people have observed, language swerves around a lot. It slithers and slides; it oozes and leaks. It migrates and sometimes comes back again with a tan so deep it’s hardly unrecognisable. This is part of the deal and unstoppable: anyone like, for example, the Academie Francaise, who tries to hold back the tides of change, is doomed to failure: every year the Academie publishes a dictionary of new words, usually French versions of phrases like buzz, fashionista or deadline:
Its efforts are of course doomed to failure because the English words are so much snappier, not to mention more international, than their French replacements. Who wants to say fin de semaine when you could just talk about le weekend?
But not all of these migrations are equal. To be blunt, some of them suck: and whilst I appreciate snappy phrases like 24/7 (who could believe we ever said twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week?) there’s an equal and opposite tendency to use grandiose words for things which in themselves are not very much at all. I guess you could call it reification except it’s more verbification; making a – well, a ‘to-do’ – out of not very much. Hence the verb ‘curate,’ which seems to pop up everywhere lending gravitas to the insignificant. Put a bunch of things together and voila, you’ve ‘curated’ something.
How far can this go? I have curated a salad? I went to the library and curated some books to read in bed? I curated my wardrobe last week?
There are a few situations where ‘curate’ is appropriate: it comes from the Latin ‘curare’, meaning ‘to look after or care for,’ though its meaning has been extended to ‘assemble objects into some kind of unified whole for the purposes of exhibition.’ So if you’ve spent months or years bringing together an art exhibition, that’s curating. If you’ve assembled garments and models for a fashion show you will, in spite of my indifference to your activity, be justified in using the word ‘curate’ as a verb. But if not?
If not, it’s silly. Just stop it.
PS And here, just for fun and to commemorate Anthea Bell the translator of Asterix into English, is Asterix in Britain:
images removed on request