Thursday, February 15, 2007

Neologism of the week: quirkyalone

In shameless imitation of William Safire, I'm going to take a look at some new words or new usages of words that have entered the American English lexicon.

This week's word "quirkyalone". In honor of Valentine's Day and the general relationship obsession of the moment.

Quirkyalone (noun or adjective) is a word coined by writer Sasha Cagen in 2000 to describe a person who is happy being single but not opposed to being in a relationship. To put it another way, a quirkyalone does not see being part of a couple as essential to being satisfied with their life. Generally they are picky about who they will date, and will walk a way from a potential relationship if they don't think it will suit them.

More women than men who identify themselves as quirkyalone, possibly because recent cultural history has presented unpartnered men with more positive archetypes than it has unpartnered women. While they are comfortable being single, the well adjusted quirkyalone sees a healthy relationship as a good thing and happily get involved if the partner and situation is right. If they do commit to a relationship, they keep a lot of their individuality. This tendency means that quirkyalones tend to do best with other quirkyalones, who won't feel threatened by their partner's refusal to immerse their own identity in coupledom.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines "quirk" as "a peculiar behavior, an idiosyncrasy." Ms. Cagen's choice of "quirky" to describe the personality type carries connotation of individualism and somewhat cheerful nonconformity. The pairing of the two adjectives to make a noun gives the word itself a playful feel, which suits the self-image of the personality type. Being quirky means being in rebellion against the prevailing standards to begin with. By being happy to be single, Ms. Cagen claims, the quirkyalone is rebelling against the cultural assertion that a person is not complete until they are half of a couple.

The quirkyalone community has several other related terms that have followed the original neologism. When two quirkyalones form a successful romantic partnership while still retaining their individuality (their "quirkyness") they are "quirkytogethers". A person who holds high standards for serious relationships, but is willing to lower their standards for a one-night-stand or fling is referred to as a "quirkyslut".

Of course, every movement must have its opposition. If the community has chosen the term "quirky" to symbolize individualism they use the term "perky" to connote shallowness and plastic conformity. So the natural opposite of the quirkyalone is the "perkytogether". The perkytogether is the perpetually coupled person who looks on the quirkyalone as incomplete and somewhat crippled because they don't have a boyfriend or girlfriend. It's interesting to note the the term "perkyalone" seems not to exist.

While quirkyalones are hardly a new phenomenon, the term is, and it hasn't made its way into mainstream use yet. For the last several years, however, the word has been kept alive by a small group of readers and Internet surfers who read what it is and say to themselves, "hey, that's me!"