The dictionary app on my phone has a word of the day. Today, it’s “also-ran.” What a way to start the day. The app might as well have offered up “existential crisis” or “loser” instead of playing cute with the sports vernacular. Ever since HAL in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” there’s been a pervasive notion that technology has to be somehow patronizing, you know, before it kills you.
Also-ran. Is that even a real word? It’s more like two words in traction, a couple of old, broken bones hoping to knit. It isn’t even a portmanteau, just some hyphenated-hokum a sportswriter ginned up to plug a news hole. After the top three places, a list of also-rans kills a few column inches if one runs the roster. One of the many editorial innovations of the late 19th century.
Yes, “also-ran” is over a century old, which is interesting given how contemporary, or more pointedly, facile it sounds. What other words will the app shoehorn back into our contemporary argot? Rumbumptious? Eugenics?
Also-ran also has more than one definition in the running. Besides the sports references, its third, “informal” definition has me quite convinced the app isn’t necessarily on my side. “A person who attains little or no success: For every great artist there are a thousand also-rans.”
What a dreadful example. Who wrote that? A goddamn artist asking themselves, “What am I doing squandering my talent on a dictionary app?” Don’t sell out our people, mate. Keep the aspidistra flying. Or, really, any potted plant, even if it doesn’t serve as an Orwellian literary allusion (and by Orwellian, I don’t mean the bits with authoritarianism or livestock – I mean “Keep the Aspidistra Flying,” which is about an advertising executive who drops out to become a poet and the consequences that ensue – namely poverty, starvation and bad sex).