Wednesday, January 21, 2009


It’s amazing how quickly new terminology can be adopted as buzzwords. Consider ‘mashup,’ a young word made popular through digital media, music, videos and web applications.

A mashup is a derived work comprising components from other existing works. Many clips on YouTube, for example, are user-generated files that combine video and audio from a variety of sources, re-edited to create new pieces.

As mashups have become easier for anyone with a computer to compose, the term has begun to creep into other sectors. The Hartford Courant included fashion designer Marc Jacobs in its 2008 Image Index because “his multi-culti mash-up collections for Spring '09 were among the season's best.” Los Angeles Times movie reviewer Robert Abele suggests the new film Chandni Chowk to China can “only be termed genre-mashup overkill.” And in June 2009, the Youth Marketing Mashup—really just a conference—will take place in San Francisco, Calif.

Such uses threaten to chip away at the term’s original meaning until it is no more. Jacobs’ fashions might be mashups if he used materials from previously existing clothing, but he doesn’t. Chandni Chowk certainly wasn’t edited from other movies’ footage. Notably, it features the first action movie sequences ever filmed on the Great Wall of China; how can something without precedent be a mashup? And calling a conference a mashup just smacks of desperation to sound young.

A new word deserves better—it deserves a chance to be understood for its own merits before it is co-opted for other purposes. At the very least, wait until it’s in a few more dictionaries first.

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