I like thinking about how words are used and how they travel virally through groups of people. Words like "Doucheoisie," and prefixes, too, like "Celebu-." And now, thanks to a few blog posts about the opening of Mast bookshop on Avenue A, I'm thinking about the word "curated" and what it means these days.
"Curated" popped up in a post by EV Grieve, where an anonymous reader said that Mast's "Focus is on a 'well-curated' collection of art and photography books." This word triggered anxiety in many of Grieve's readers.
from the Times
Erin commented, "The price automatically goes up $15 dollars the minute anyone says the word 'curate.'" Gabriel wrote a dramatic scene about a guy named Mike who curates a sandwich. People started to freak out a little. For myself, I worried that a "curated" bookstore meant the same thing as "artisanal"--pizza, hamburgers, donuts, whatever--something simple turned precious and expensive, part of the hyper-gentrification juggernaut.
After my own visit to the shop, after finding it unfussy and reasonably priced, I wrote that the owner planned to add "a curated selection of new books" to the stock. Reader Baha chimed in, "I'm eating my curated breakfast alongside my curated Cafe Bustelo. Please, Jere, don't help promote this annoying new usage."
So what's up with "curated" and why does it make so many of us upset?
The Times actually did a whole story about this word in 2009. They wrote that curate:
- "has become a fashionable code word among the aesthetically minded, who seem to paste it onto any activity that involves culling and selecting."
- "is code for 'I have a discerning eye and great taste.'"
- is "an innocent form of self-inflation."
- "can be good for one’s image and business."
"Pretentious?" asked the Times, "Maybe. But it’s hardly unusual for members of less pedigreed professions to adopt the vernacular of more prestigious ones."
So the use of "curate" is aspirational, which does put it in the same league as "artisanal." And that makes some people nervous because it signals to consumers something very specific. It signals "exclusivity" and is meant to attract people who yearn to be in the club. It may also repel people who find the use of such words pretentious and exclusionary.
In addition, museum curators really aren't happy about it.