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Toxic: A Buzzword That Needs to Dial It Down

Up until 2019, we’ve collected a whole thesaurus of buzzwords we constantly reference through second nature. Don’t get me wrong—it’s totally understandable; the power of language is the ability to adapt itself to the way we think. 

Our favorite dictionary, Merriam-Webster, defines buzzword to be ‘’a voguish word or phrase often of little meaning used chiefly to impress laymen’’; quite spot-on, don’t you think? There are more words of this indole used as garnish every day, especially in 160-character posts circulating the web. We’ve all referenced a buzzword at least once: adulting, binge, foodie, doggo, and so on.

We’re not saying buzzwords are a bad thing, they’re catchy words that have a habit of fitting themselves into everyone’s vocabulary. However, their connotations may have some different implications. Since their nature is to be empty and idle words at best, we’re tooting the horn and calling an end to one particular buzzword: toxic

When we look at the word on its own, toxic derives from the Greek toxikon pharmakon: ‘’the poison of arrows.’’ As generations passed, it was later diluted to mean anything poisonous. In today’s day and age, the word has adopted a new connotation: anything or anyone that impedes—or poisons—our individual growth or prosperity in any area of our lives (emotionally, financially, or even socially).

We, as the post-millennial generation—Zoomers?—have been engulfed by technology since we were kids. Our minds, just like computers, are hardwired to quantify everything―from followers deeming your worth, to the words you use keeping you relevant and “woke.” Taking this into consideration, we may not even realize that we quantify our vocabulary words like a knowledge piggy bank, somehow making us feel socially empowered over everyone else. A common way we feed this ego is by categorizing things as toxic, giving us a valid excuse to exclude them entirely from our lives or deeming them unworthy of our precious time. 

Let’s underline the fact that we are not dismissing the word, for there’s a valid reason for its upbringing. A toxic person complies with the following pattern: they minimize someone through constant criticism, belittle their emotions and disappear—ghost— at pure leisure. It’s a matter of disrespect, demeaning someone, and pushing them down to believe they are of little to no worth. Now that is behavior no one should tolerate; no significant other, friend or relative should wield such power over anyone. This behavior is, without a doubt, toxic. Now, Zoomers don't think twice about calling someone out and holding them accountable for their actions, which leads to another phenomenon: cancel culture.

Cancel culture is a boycott where a collective group decides the individual to be “canceled”―another buzzword―or not, usually after a socially unaccepted action took place or an unpopular opinion was shared. Social media stretched to be more than just a space to goof off and share memes; its now a platform where everyone serves as the judge, jury, and attorney pointing out the defendant. Let’s do the math and add it all up: if one is deemed toxic and it is made public, they are canceled, ergo, cut off and deemed irrelevant. But, what is to say this person is truly toxic? The victim? Peers? Evidence? Of course, but what if there was none of the above? Misunderstandings are not uncommon, and miscommunications happen all the time, ironically in an era engulfed by facilitated communication. 

Funneling it all down, the problem seems to be the same one humanity has been dealing with since the dawn of time: power, and the ability to wield it over others. In some instances (not saying in all of them), cancel culture grants permission to belittle and exclude people within a community, allowing said Cancelers to climb up a hierarchy ladder; and who doesn’t like a few popularity points?

So, what became the norm to boost up on social media points and remain relevant? You guessed it: calling people out on their toxicity, or any other excuse to rev up gossip (which, in its self, the whole conception is...kind of toxic). 

We’re proposing a call to action upon everyone and dilute the use of this word for trivial things, and only use it when absolutely necessary. The word has its valid reason, and only in those instances where an actual individual is causing very real damage upon someone else. All in all, we propose holding ourselves back, as a generation, from authoritarian behavior, while keeping a safe space to share, if we truly want to see a change in humanity.