I have a problem with Linsanity. But before I get lynched by legions of Jeremy Lin fans, let me elaborate. Because my problem is purely linguistic.
For readers outside the US, and those that aren’t fans of basketball, I should supply a bit of background. In early February, Jeremy Lin was given a starting opportunity by the New York Knicks in an NBA clash against the New Jersey Nets. The 23-year-old had had an uninspiring career to this point, but when finally given a chance, he scored 25 points to inspire the Knicks to victory. And it didn’t stop there as he embarked on a phenomenal scoring run, averaging more than 27 points in four matches. Add in the fact that he is of Taiwanese descent, making him the first such American-born player to compete in the NBA, and the story’s global appeal starts to make sense.
And the word that appeared and came to encapsulate the Jeremy Lin success story – Linsanity.
I have been pondering this for the last few days and trying to work out why, on a new word level, Linsanity had been making me feel ambivalent. And my feelings of uncertainty only increased as Linsanity flooded the internet and reports started emerging that it is already an early contender in some quarters for word of the year. UPDATE – And since writing this paragraph, the Global Language Monitor has now officially recognised Linsanity as a word, making it one of the quickest rises from nowhere to linguistic status on record.
So what are my issues? Well firstly, it only seemed to be a word for headlines, a shorthand way of referring to the phenomenon before leading into a written piece which didn’t use it again. But that is now fading, and Linsanity is breaking out from its headline-only role.
Then there was the sense that it was quite limited in scope. Linsanity covers one person at one time, and cannot be extended to mean anything else. And unlike Tebowing, the previous linguistic sports phenomenon, it can only be used in reference to the Jeremy Lin story and not for something wider which other people can also take part in.
Finally, there was the feeling that the word’s emergence will be short-lived. Linsanity has only been around for three weeks, at time of writing. In another three weeks, it could be a distant memory, meaning it would then only be used in a historical sense.
But despite all of this, I have managed to put my doubts to one side. If Linsanity does end up winning word of the year garlands at the end of 2012, I think it will be a worthy winner.
And why have I concluded that? Because you could probably have argued all of the above for Beatlemania when that emerged as a word back in 1963. It was first coined as a shorthand way of describing the group’s appeal, it was limited in scope to the Beatles themselves and it died away as the Beatles’ popularity became more normal. And despite that, Beatlemania is an excellent word.
Above all, it looks like the Jeremy Lin story will be one of the major sports talking points of 2012. It needs a word to encapsulate it. And Linsanity does that perfectly.