What do “junk food”, “soccer mom”, “zip code”, “gentrification” and “fake news” all have in common? They are all newly-coined terms that have been added to the English language in the last 60 years. In a new project Atlas of Neologism, the Swiss-based graphic designer Irini Gleglakou documents these words in two type-centred works, in turn, exploring how these terms have arisen from the technological and cultural changes of late.
The project started off as a university brief, asking each student on La Chaux-de-Fonds’ design course to create a project around the theme of “Atlas”. A recent graduate from the institution, Irini, who is originally from Athens, chose to study in Switzerland to learn more about the country’s relationship graphic design and its historical significance that continues to inspire designers all around the world today. “For me, graphic design is always in my life through images and texts,” she tells It’s Nice That. “We live in a visual world where we are bombarded with images. Everything is a source of inspiration and this helps me to develop my creativity as a graphic designer today.”
When first faced with the notion of the atlas, Irini’s initial thoughts were: What kind of atlas is useful today? How can it be interesting for the reader? Starting to research global issues in response to these questions, she stumbled upon the American Dialect Society and its Words of the Year which immediately intrigued Irini, eventually becoming the basis for her final project at university. In two publications, Irini curates these terms to reveal the state of society and its impact on language at the time. While one publication consists of six newspapers (one for each decade of terms), the other is a book culminating all 60 terms in one compendium. “The newspapers are used to depict the past whereas the book is used to depict the present,” Irini adds on the matter.
Analysing the impact of each term (from past and present perspectives), Irini then sought out a visual representation for the words. “When I was collecting my research, I was always finding more,” says Irini. She recalls looking into her first term, “junk food”, added to the dictionary in 1960. Discovering an article published back in the 60s by The New York Times, the article uncovered what junk food was at the time of its conception. “I realised the historical importance of each word,” adds the designer, resultantly creating the newspapers as a parallel project to highlight each word’s cultural significance.
Additionally translating the information into the digital, Irini drew out comparisons using Google Trends and Instagram to highlight the difference between how the terms are used nowadays, contrasted against how they were perceived at their conception. Irini goes on to say: “When I first starting working on this project, I never knew that I would learn so much.”
I understood the meaning of these words but I never thought they’d have such an impact on our cultural history. The moment I placed the words next to each other, I realised how much the world has changed from a cultural, technological and political point of view.” She cites the following terms as examples: “gentrification” (1994), “worldwide web” (1995) and “#BlackLivesMatter” (2014). Though these terms are formed of just a few letters, “they carry a lot of power” and signify wider social movements at large.
By using Google Statistics, Irini came to discover a number of surprising facts surrounding the terms’ changing definitions to date. Take, for example, the word “newbie”, used by US troops in the Vietnam War to describe a new man in a unit. “Today, Instagram statistics can reveal that it is most widely used for babies,” says Irini.
With this extensive research project behind her, and having just finished her studies, Irini is hoping to undertake internships around the world, hoping to hone in on her editorial design skills in the future.
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