by Mellissa Martinez
In the ’70s and ’80s, the word ‘trend’ was associated with current fashion, popular culture and hip hairstyles. Trends seemed more durable, often lasting for months if not years.
In my case, ‘trendy’ meant Jordache jeans, ruffle shirts, aerobics, sweatbands, crimped hair and side ponytails (you get the picture).
Thanks to our ever-changing language, ‘trend’ is no longer limited to fashion. The word has evolved to describe a variety of temporarily popular activities, events and even words, particularly in the virtual realm.
Originally, ‘trend’ was related to roundness, as the Old English trinde meant a ‘round lump or ball.’ Middle English trenden was used as a verb meaning ‘to revolve or turn around,’ and in the late 1500s ‘trend’ described the round bend of rivers and coastlines; the curve of mountain ranges was also called ‘a trend.’
In the late 1800s, ‘trend’ began to shift meaning to ‘general tendency of a group’ from the nautical sense, where trend identified the general course or direction. It wasn’t until 1950 that the word came to mean ‘a prevailing new tendency in popular fashion or culture.’
The uses of ‘trend’ have changed dramatically since the 1500s. In fact, I would suggest that nobody today associates it with roundness or turning. Just this year, the Oxford English Dictionary updated its definition, reporting that ‘trend,’ as a verb, now means “to generate a large amount of social media activity over a short time span.”
As an example, they cite a 2010 Twitter post which stated, “Justin Bieber is trending.” This, of course, means that for some reason a lot of people (or more than usual) were simultaneously searching online for the young pop star.
The use of ‘trending’ by itself to mean “increasing in popularity” emerged in the 1980s, but it has taken this decade by storm. As one online blogger writes, before the ’80s, stock prices were described as ‘trending up’ or ‘trending down,’ but they were never just ‘trending.’ Today there are news reports on trending stories, dictionaries sections for trending words and What’s Trending? sites for Google, Yahoo, Twitter, Buzzfeed and others. Trending topics can include amateur videos, stories, pictures, words or anything else that has caught the public’s attention.
As for words, they usually trend because of people. When somebody does or says something that people find confusing, interesting, funny or offensive, a corresponding trending word emerges.
For example, immediately after an American dentist killed Cecil the Lion, the word ‘extradition’ trended in Zimbabwe; the word ‘grace’ trended in late June immediately after President Obama broke into song at a memorial service; Supreme Court Justice Scalia’s dissent on same-sex marriage caused a trend in the definition of ‘putsch’ and ‘mummery;’ and, not surprisingly, Donald Trump has been responsible for some recent word trends, namely ‘bigly’ and ‘bloviate.’
For those who tweet during live events, the expression ‘trending moments’ refers to a sudden spike in tweets at a particular moment in the show. Attendees and viewers with Smart phones in hand cannot wait to comment.
For example, trending moments during the recent GOP debate happened when Trump refused to apologize to Bush’s wife and when Fiorina responded to comments about her face. From last week’s Emmys, the trending moments were a little sweeter. Tweets trended when Viola Davis became the first black woman to take home an Emmy for Lead Actress and when Lady Gaga surprised viewers by leaving the meat behind for a simple black gown.
As I finish this article, I am searching to see what is trending in this exact moment. Given that Pope Francis has just arrived in DC and has delivered his first speech, I fully expected to see some papal trends, but this wasn’t the case. In this country, today it seems we are more interested in the break up of Ms. Piggy and Kermit and the new song released from One Direction.
Thankfully, unlike the 1980s, when trends persisted for months or even years, today they don’t enjoy quite the same staying power. What trends today will likely be forgotten tomorrow so, unlike the side pony tale that stayed with some of us for over a year, Lady Gaga’s choice of gown is already considered yesterday’s news.