As a member of the American Dialect Society (ADS), I’m always on the alert – like a caffeinated owl who eats lexical items instead of field mice – for possible Word of the Year (WOTY) candidates.
The ADS has the oldest WOTY vote, and recent picks have include such major words of our time as “subprime,” “truthiness,” and “weapons of mass destruction” – plus a few neato obscurities like “Plutoed” – 2006’s WOTY, which means being demoted to non-relevant status, à la the coldest, snubbedest, in-the-doghouse-iest former planet of them all.
A candidate for 2008 WOTY might be “kindergarchy” – defined by Paul McFedries on The Word Spy as “Rule or domination by children; the belief that children’s needs and preferences take precedence over those of their parents or other adults.” This new word has spread quickly, concisely capturing the feeling that the lollipops of childhood have been replaced by royal scepters, with which parents and bystanders are soundly bludgeoned.
In the June 21, 2008, edition of the Sydney Morning Herald, Michael Duffy sums up the feelings behind the word: “Ours is a society increasingly dominated by the needs of children, or rather by the extraordinarily inflated needs we have come to attribute to them. The amount of money and attention many parents lavish on their children not only doesn’t do much for the characters of their sons and daughters, it diminishes the parents’ lives as well.”
Linguistically, kindergarchy has cousins. Anxiety over how much parenting is too little, too much, just right, or just wrong dominates conversations between parental units everywhere, spawning many a word, including “helicopter parent” (so-named for their ominous, ever-present hovering, like an FBI chopper closing in on a perp) “hyperparenting” (related to both overscheduling and hyperventilating), “hurried child syndrome” (one result of the helicopter and hyper models of parenthood), and “trophy child” (like a trophy wife, the child is a shiny, albeit cookie-crumb-covered, ornament meant to reflect glory on the parents).
But the kindergarchy concept has even older ancestors, which makes me think this type of parents-these-days gripe has always been around to some extent; perhaps even a few cave-parents thought their peers were spending too much time on the cave-babies and not enough on wheel-inventing and fire-discovering. The OED has citations from 1846 and 1882 for “babyolatry” and “infantolatry” respectively, while another rare word from 1850 is a primordial predecessor to kindergarchy, sharing a similar sentiment: “Your infantocracy is the most absolute government under the sun.”
In one of the articles that put this term on the map, Joseph Epstein writes, “My mother never read to me, and my father took me to no ballgames, though we did go to Golden Gloves fights a few times. When I began my modest athletic career, my parents never came to any of my games, and I should have been embarrassed had they done so. My parents never met any of my girlfriends in high school. No photographic or video record exists of my uneven progress through early life.”
Maybe I accidentally put on my cranky curmudgeon fez instead of my language-columnist cap today, but that’s a lot of sour grapes staining the purple prose of Epstein’s argument against the supposed kindergarchy. Just because some folks were raised in a barn by wolves – or received less than the FDA-suggested daily requirement of hugs and cookies – is no excuse for painting kids as kings and suggesting a regime change. Everybody gets tired of hearing about everybody else’s kids sometimes, but a world truly ruled by children would be a different planet altogether, featuring headlines such as:
Bedtime ruled a war crime.
“Dibs” recognized as legally binding; failure to respect dibs punishable by wedgie.
“Nanny nanny poo poo, stick your head in doo-doo” replaces Pledge of Allegiance.
Spilling stuff designated as valid cultural practice that must be respected.
Now that’s kindergarchy. It’s a compelling concept – like Chocolate-cake-istan or The Planet of the Zombie Vampires – but we’re not living in it.
Are you living in a kindergarchy? Or is the very idea offensive, silly, or cuckoo? Let us know in comments.