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a blog by Ann Althouse

"After opening the choice of Word of the Year up to English speakers for the first time in its history, over the last two weeks more than 300,000 people cast their vote.... And the winner is... Goblin mode."

"‘Goblin mode’ – a slang term, often used in the expressions ‘in goblin mode’ or ‘to go goblin mode’ – is ‘a type of behaviour which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations.’ Although first seen on Twitter in 2009, goblin mode went viral on social media in February 2022, quickly making its way into newspapers and magazines after being tweeted in a mocked-up headline. The term then rose in popularity over the months following as Covid lockdown restrictions eased in many countries and people ventured out of their homes more regularly. Seemingly, it captured the prevailing mood of individuals who rejected the idea of returning to ‘normal life’, or rebelled against the increasingly unattainable aesthetic standards and unsustainable lifestyles exhibited on social media...."

So says Oxford Languages (the publisher of the Oxford English Dictionary).

Sample quote from The Guardian: “Goblin mode is like when you wake up at 2am and shuffle into the kitchen wearing nothing but a long t-shirt to make a weird snack, like melted cheese on saltines.” 

Here's an Axios article from last April: "Musk's 'goblin mode' is here to stay":

At the end of his week-long Twitter adventure — buying 9% of the company's stock, taking a seat on its board and then abandoning it — Elon Musk posted a meme reading: "In all fairness, your honor, my client was in goblin mode." Then he deleted it.
Goblin mode apparently means "I no longer care about what anyone thinks about how I look or what I say."
Don't mind me, Musk seemed to be saying. I've just been putting you on....

Ha ha. That was back in April, remember.

Musk may just be one crazy-rich guy who loves to play the trickster-troll, but the manic style of corporate disruption he is pioneering is likely to be with the tech industry for a long time....
[Musk's] idea of activist investing involves roasting the company's management in public (ideally, on their own social media platform) while frequently changing his own course.This method's strength is that it attracts attention, it hooks people on an unpredictable narrative, and it makes Musk himself look (to fans, at least) like a renegade rule-breaker.

I don't know what that has in common with  melted cheese on saltines and an oversized T-shirt. Maybe the term is evolving differently in the United States.

The bottom line: No one knows what Musk will do next, probably not even Musk himself. He could still try for a hostile takeover of Twitter, or he could walk away....

He could shuffle into the kitchen at 2 a.m. and melt cheese on saltines. Who knows?! 

ADDED: The NYT article about the Word of the Year does not mention Musk (even though there are only 2 other articles in the NYT archive using "goblin mode" and they are both about Musk). But there are a few interesting things.

First, about the vote, which pitched the little-known "goblin mode" against “#IStandWith” and “metaverse”:

In a passionate appeal, the website PC Gamer urged people to “put aside our petty differences and vote for ‘goblin mode,’” if only to thwart the milquetoast-y “#IStandWith” and the downright evil “metaverse.”

“Go vote for taking care of yourself and having joy in rejection of society’s stifling norms,” the website urged. Because “the metaverse that CEOs want to sell you is awful.”

The internet obeyed, delivering a whopping 93 percent of the more than 340,000 votes cast to “goblin mode.” “Metaverse” was the runner-up, with 4 percent.

Second, about how "goblin mode" caught on this year:

[I]t went viral last spring, thanks to a satirical tweet featuring a fake news headline that quoted the actress Julia Fox saying that she and Kanye West broke up because he didn’t like it when she “went goblin mode.” (Fox later posted a denial on Instagram Stories, saying: “Just for the record, I have never used the phrase ‘goblin mode.’”)

Third, about other dictionaries' Word of the Year (not chosen by a vote):

This year, Merriam-Webster chose “gaslighting” (based on a 1,740 percent surge in look-ups on its website). Cambridge Dictionaries went with “homer,” which was among the many five-letter words that surged this year thanks to Wordle. (On May 5, when “homer” was the winning word, look-ups — many presumably by non-Americans — spiked to 65,000.)

Homer?! That's crazy. Maybe it got looked up by people who don't know baseball and think it's just a proper name and therefore mistakenly used by Wordle.

Fourth, the idea that "metaverse" was a good word before it became a Facebook brand:

[T]he prefix “meta” has already gone from being a highbrow philosophical word to something corporate and, for many, suspect. “Is the concept of people sitting around in goggles going to pollute the concept of ironic self-referentiality?” [asked Katherine Connor Martin, product director at Oxford Languages].

She cited the usage expert Bryan Garner’s concept of “skunked words” — words that have become unusable, because of disputed meanings or problematic associations. “We wondered if that would happen to the verb ‘trump,’” she said. “But it didn’t.”

"In today’s therapy-saturated culture, you hear countless messages about what therapy is and what it is for...."

"Back in 1979, the historian and critic Christopher Lasch wrote that the New Left had retreated from politics and turned inward, focusing on personal psychological well-being instead of external collective struggles. These days that is funnily reversed: Psychology is often used, especially online, as a way to collectively press others. In some corners therapy has become a kind of social imperative, something anyone can urge strangers to engage in — not so they can explore their own experiences, but so their psychic toxicity can be contained before it spills onto others. Social media is filled with memes and jokes in which people 'beg' men to get therapy, or deploy variations of the formula that 'men will literally do anything but go to therapy.'..."

From "Is It Toxic to Tell Everyone to Get Therapy?/It has become a social credential to be in therapy. It’s also incredibly difficult to access" by Zachary Siegel (NYT). 

The link on Lasch goes to a 2010 essay — by Lee Siegel — about Lasch's 1979 book, "The Culture of Narcissism":

In Lasch’s definition (drawn from Freud), the narcissist, driven by repressed rage and self-hatred, escapes into a grandiose self-conception, using other people as instruments of gratification even while craving their love and approval. Lasch saw the echo of such qualities in “the fascination with fame and celebrity, the fear of competition, the inability to suspend disbelief, the shallowness and transitory quality of personal relations, the horror of death.”...

In “The Culture of Narcissism,” Lasch again blamed both the right’s veneration of market forces and the left’s cultural progressivism for weakening the bonds of family and community — and thus deforming the growth of solid character....

 Zachary Siegel... Lee Siegel... — are they related? Whatever. The point is Christopher Lasch said some notable things 40 years ago, and Zachary Siegel is saying that things have reversed — "funnily" (he seems to think it's funny). Lasch thought people had gone too inward, into individual therapy, and Siegel is saying that people are taking therapy and aiming it outward. 

"In 1964, Gloria Szymanski, a recently divorced mother struggling with the sexual and behavioral strictures of her new status, was filmed as a patient of three renowned therapists..."

"... Carl Rogers, Frederick Perls, and Albert Ellis. The film was produced and narrated by the psychologist Everett L. Shostrum, who was Szymanski’s personal therapist and who recruited her for this starring role.... 'He told Gloria that the films would only be used in schools and colleges to teach psychology students so imagine her surprise then when making her breakfast pancakes a year or so later to see her interview with Dr. Perls on TV and then she found out that the films were going to be shown in full in movie theatres all over the country.'... She talks, with frankness and charm, about her daddy issues and her pinings for smart, authoritative men. If not for the clinical setting and the disapproving gaze of the therapists, her desires would seem normal—which, of course, they are...."

From "Gender Critique Meets Lewd Spectacle in 'The Patient Gloria'/Gina Moxley’s play examines the sexual and behavioral strictures on women through the lens of psychotherapy circa 1964" (The New Yorker).

Even as disease could be perceived as health — see the first post of today — health could be perceived as disease.

ADDED: I believe it is a terrible invasion of privacy, but nevertheless, I found the original film on YouTube, so I present it here: 

"She admits to talking to her bathtub as she wipes it dry, saying, 'It’s amazing how you’re always so clean and free of mold.'..."

"A big obstruction to tidying, she notes, is the gap between the way many of us live and our ideal lifestyles. Rather than let this disparity discourage us, she recommends clinging to our dreams and doing whatever small things we can to realize them — like putting a photograph of a beautiful landscape on a windowless wall, where we might wish we had a view.... Her own ideal lifestyle involves daily yoga, herbal tea breaks, time with her three young children and the opportunity, when she can grab it, to scrub the floor on her hands and knees. This activity not only releases tension and improves posture but also brings good vibes, she writes: 'The floor is the foundation of the house. Cleaning it with my own hands helps me feel my connection to it.'"

From "Marie Kondo Takes On a New Role: Life Coach/There’s a big difference between the way most of us wish we lived and how we actually do. The tidying guru is back with a new book to help fix that" by Julie Lasky (NYT).

The new book is "Marie Kondo’s Kurashi at Home." That link goes to Amazon, where there's an excerpt from the book that includes defining "kurashi":

In Japanese, the word for “lifestyle” is kurashi.... [I]n the Daijisen dictionary of Japanese terms...  it means “the act of living; spending each day; daily life; making a livelihood.” The verb kurasu means “to pass one’s time until sunset; to spend one’s day.” In other words, the ideal kurashi simply means the ideal way of spending our time, and therefore is separate from the “ideal home.”

This realization reminded me of my university days when I lived in Tokyo with my parents. Even though I had my own little room, which in Japanese cities is a huge luxury, I was always full of ideals and aspirations. I dreamed of having a bigger room, a cuter kitchen, a little garden on the balcony, nicer curtains on the windows, and so on....

Oddly enough, once they’ve finished tidying and have realized their ideal lifestyle, many of my clients actually end up with the house—and even the furnishings—of their dreams. I can’t count the times I’ve heard my clients say things like, “Two years after tidying we moved into a house exactly like the one I imagined.” Or “Someone gave me the kind of furniture I’d always wanted.” This is one of the many strange and wonderful effects of tidying that I’ve witnessed through my work....

"I have observed a change, or really a narrowing, in the public behavior of people who use Twitter or other social media a lot...."

"When I compare Mr. Musk, Mr. Trump and Ye, I see a convergence of personalities that were once distinct. The garish celebrity playboy, the obsessive engineer and the young artist, as different from one another as they could be, have all veered not in the direction of becoming grumpy old men, but into being bratty little boys in a schoolyard.... I believe 'Twitter poisoning' is a real thing. It is a side effect that appears when people are acting under an algorithmic system that is designed to engage them to the max. It’s a symptom of being part of a behavior-modification scheme.... Behavioral changes occur as a side effect of something called operant conditioning...."

From "Trump, Musk and Kanye Are Twitter Poisoned" by Jaron Lanier (NYT). Lanier is a computer scientist and author of “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now.” 

In early operant conditioning, pioneered by famous behaviorists like B.F. Skinner, animals were given positive and negative feedback in the form of treats and electric shocks.... People receive little positive and negative jolts of social feedback....

[A]lgorithms that optimized the individualized advertising model found their way into it automatically, unintentionally rediscovering methods that had been tested on dogs and pigeons....

Instead of being above it all, like traditional strongmen throughout history, the modern social media-poisoned alpha male whines and frets.

Lanier began by homing in on 3 men — Trump, Musk, and Ye — and now he's broadening his view — but it's still about men — alpha men....

This works because his followers are similarly poisoned and can relate so well....

... and beta men.

When we were children, we all had to negotiate our way through the jungle of human power relationships at the playground. When we feel those old humiliations, anxieties and sadisms again as adults — over and over, because the algorithm has settled on that pattern as a powerful way to engage us — habit formation restimulates old patterns that had been dormant. We become children again, not in a positive, imaginative sense, but in a pathetic way. Twitter poisoning makes sufferers feel more oppressed than is reasonable in response to reasonable rules. The scope of fun is constricted to transgressions....

Lanier never says I'm only talking about males relating to males, but that is what he's doing. Maybe he'd say something similar goes on with females, but he doesn't — and shouldn't — make that claim. 


By the way, this got me thinking about the much-discussed question what it means to claim to be a woman when you were born with the anatomy of a man. I've been trying make my way through Joe Rogan's podcast with Matt Walsh. Walsh made that movie "What is a woman?" which shows various people flummoxed when asked to say what it means to be a woman. It's a 3-hour podcast, so that's a long journey. I'm more than halfway through, but it's easy to understand Walsh's point: If people can't specify what, other than anatomy, defines womanhood, then anatomy must define womanhood. 

It seems to me that Lanier offers a path to an answer. Not that he intends to. He seems to be haplessly talking about people without noticing (or admitting) that he's only talking about men:

When we were children, we all had to negotiate our way through the jungle of human power relationships at the playground. When we feel those old humiliations, anxieties and sadisms again as adults....


... grumpy old men... bratty little boys in a schoolyard.... 

I'm not identifying with this.

DePape blogged about meditating, playing video games at the library, and buying "a fantasy miniature salamander" on Etsy.

He blogged about not buying "a fairy house on Etsy" because — as WaPo puts it in "Alleged assailant filled blog with delusional thoughts in days before Pelosi attack" — he "was frustrated that the doors were painted and so could not be used by a fairy."

In DePape's words: “They have lots of fairy houses but NONE of them are MADE for fairies,” he wrote. 

WaPo casually defames Jordan Peterson:

In late August, DePape became engrossed in the decision by Twitter to ban Jordan Peterson for his posts about transgender people. The Canadian psychologist turned conservative podcaster had once said that being transgender was comparable to “satanic ritual abuse.”

Jordan Peterson did NOT say that "being transgender was comparable to 'satanic ritual abuse.'" Peterson  compared the belief that one is transgender to the belief that one has been a victim of satanic ritual abuse. He did not suggest that transgender people are like satanic abusers! He was discussing the phenomenon of "social contagion."

Back to WaPo:

DePape published six posts in support of Peterson and then continued with his own caustic takes on transgender people, saying they should not be a protected group. “They were not BORN a freak. They are not INHERENTLY a freak threw no fault of their own. … They are CHOOSING to be FREAKS,” he wrote in one post.

DePape also misunderstood Peterson, but not as badly as The Washington Post misunderstood Peterson.

"A great concern is that adolescents may be making faulty self-diagnoses and treatment plans in the absence of professional insight."

Said Corey H. Basch, a professor of public health at William Paterson University of New Jersey and lead author of a study of #mentalhealth on TikTok, quoted in "Teens Turn to TikTok in Search of a Mental Health Diagnosis/While social media can help people feel less alone, using it to evaluate symptoms has several downsides" (NYT).

Unsurprisingly, the article doesn't mention teenagers who identify as transgender, but that subject comes up in the comments. Someone writes:

Where do you think kids are getting the idea they are trans or non-binary? The only difference is how it is treated in the US. Rather than question, everyone is told to go along with it, leading to unnecessary medication and surgery.

The conditions discussed in the article are:

  • depersonalization disorder
  • O.C.D ("People go, ‘Well, if I have the symptom, I have to have the disorder’ — but it’s not that kind of relationship... [but] if you’re organized and you have structure and you like things a certain way and you’re functioning, you don’t have obsessive-compulsive disorder — you’re organized")
  • depression (“It’s incredibly easy to misdiagnose... You might have symptoms that look like what an adult’s depression would look like, but as a child or adolescent it very well could mean something completely different")
  • misophonia ("I think it empowers youth to know it’s not just them making something up... [but] a little bit of information can be dangerous")
  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

ADDED: Right after publishing this post, I saw that 2 new comments over there also raise the issue of gender dysphoria:

1. "How is it possible that this article did not address the 500% increase in teen girls self-identifying as the opposite sex? Indeed, teen boys are affected too, but as we know, teen girls are particularly prone to social contagions (anorexia, bulimia, cutting, recently seen facial tics)."

2. "Why is it that there is an article about this but not about teens diagnosing themselves with gender dsyphoria after immersion in social media like TikTok? Let's please connect the dots in a commonsense way. Gender dysphoria appears to be socially influenced, which is why exploratory therapy and proper assessment before any medicalization is so key. Thank goodness jurisdictions like Florida, Sweden, Finland, and the UK now understand this and are prioritizing the mental health of such gender distressed young people."

"Do you think that Donald Trump made everybody go crazy?"

The interviewer Meghan Daum asks the therapist Dea Bridge in "What a Conservative Therapist Thinks About Politics and Mental Health" (NYT).

Daum: Do you think that Donald Trump made everybody go crazy? 

Bridge: What do you mean by “made everybody go crazy”?

Daum: In my world, I know a lot of people who were so distressed about the election of Trump that they had to go on anxiety medication. They couldn’t sleep. It dominated their lives, their goals, their thoughts, their relationships, their conversations for four years and even to this day. 

Bridge: That is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. Why would you let one person in the world control your life? Are you that weak?

Daum: They would say, “Well, he is the president of our country.”

Bridge: There were people who thought that Barack Obama was the Antichrist, too. They lived through that. People don’t agree with Joe Biden now, either. If you really give that much control to someone, there are a lot more deficits in your life than you recognize.

That's an example of something Bridge is consistent about: You need to "take responsibility for your choices and stop blaming other people for your feelings." She presents that as conservative, and I guess it is conservative if liberals won't adopt that position too. Which they could.

"I know two Tims, and they have opposing intuitions about their own continuities. The first Tim, my father-in-law, is sure..."

"... that he’s had the same jovially jousting personality from two to seventy-two. He’s also had the same interests—reading, the Second World War, Ireland, the Wild West, the Yankees—for most of his life. He is one of the most self-consistent people I know. The second Tim, my high-school friend, sees his life as radically discontinuous, and rightly so. When I first met him, he was so skinny that he was turned away from a blood drive for being underweight; bullied and pushed around by bigger kids.... But after high school Tim suddenly transformed into a towering man with an action-hero physique. He studied physics and philosophy in college, and then worked in a neuroscience lab before becoming an officer in the Marines and going to Iraq.... He shared a vivid memory of a conversation he had with his mother, while they sat in the car outside an auto mechanic’s: 'I was thirteen, and we were talking about how people change. And my mom, who’s a psychiatrist, told me that people tend to stop changing so much when they get into their thirties. They start to accept who they are, and to live with themselves as they are. And, maybe because I was an unhappy and angry person at the time, I found that idea offensive. And I vowed right then that I would never stop changing. And I haven’t stopped.'"

Writes Joshua Rothman in "Are You the Same Person You Used to Be?/Researchers have studied how much of our personality is set from childhood, but what you’re like isn’t who you are" (The New Yorker).

"Do the two Tims have the whole picture? I’ve known my father-in-law for only twenty of his seventy-two years, but even in that time he’s changed quite a bit, becoming more patient and compassionate.... And there’s a fundamental sense in which my high-school friend hasn’t changed. For as long as I’ve known him, he’s been committed to the idea of becoming different..... There’s a recursive quality to acts of self-narration. I tell myself a story about myself in order to synchronize myself with the tale I’m telling; then, inevitably, I revise the story as I change.... We change, and change our view of that change...."

"The study compared two groups of patients ranging in ages from 14 to 24: one group of 36 patients received top surgery..."

"... and a control group of 34 patients received gender-affirming care, but did not get top surgery. Three months after surgery, the patients who had the procedure experienced significantly less chest dysphoria than they had prior to surgery, while patients in the control group experienced around the same levels of chest dysphoria as they had at the start of their care. Prior studies have also shown that chest dysphoria is a pervasive issue for trans and gender non-conforming youth.... American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Chase Strangio went viral on Twitter Monday after sharing his own experience with top surgery, which he received in his mid-20s. 'There is not a day that goes by that I don't think about how it was the best thing I have ever done for my survival,' the tweet read."

From " U.S. /Top surgery drastically improves quality of life for young transgender people, study finds" (CBS News).

"In 1964, Gloria Szymanski, a recently divorced mother struggling with the sexual and behavioral strictures of her new status, was filmed as a patient of three renowned therapists..."

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