Have you noticed people using the word “fail” in a strange new way lately? I first heard this new sense of the word at the Kahala Mall Barnes & Noble recently. My salesclerk dropped the empty shopping bag he was about to put my stuff into and quietly scolded himself, “Oh, fail.”
Turns out it’s the hot new thing. As Slate.com explains today, “fail” has jumped from its origins in written Internetese to spoken language, and we may be stuck with it as a catchphrase of the ’Oughts, if not a permanent addition to the language.
Now that I’ve read up on its etymology, I can see that my Barnes & Noble clerk was adding novelty to novelty by using “fail” in a self-deprecatory sense. Apparently, “fail” is a word you hurl at other people’s humiliation. Congress announces a bailout that sends stocks into the basement? Fail! In pidgin, people used to say “Face!,” or “Wop your jaws!” for the same effect.
Catchphrases catch because they say something everyone needs to say in some fresh, faster way. With that in mind, I have spent, oh, maybe 15 years now, attempting to spread a catchphrase I coined—“tap bank”—as a speedy, active, two-word replacement for having to explain, “I have to stop at ATM along the way and get some cash.” Tap here being used in the same sense as “tap a keg.”
Everyone has to go ATMs all the time anyway, so you’d think that everyone would have a use for the oh-so-efficient, “I gotta tap bank.”
But, no. My friends tell me it’s lame, it’ll never catch on. It certainly hasn’t so far.