Posted by: gdevi | November 15, 2014

Peak Beard and Lumbersexual

I am an English teacher and I must admit that I have never heard either of these terms before: peak beard and lumbersexual. As with all things linguistics, I immediately checked with Language Log and the Urban Dictionary as to the provenance and purview of these terms. Language Log did not have anything on lumbersexual, and it did have some useful information on peak beard. While lumbersexual seems to be a compound word that has undergone semantic drift, peak beard seems to be the latest and most popular instance of slang compounding.

Lumbersexual has no entry in any decent dictionary worth its name. Metrosexual (adj.) does have an entry in Merriam Webster: “a usually urban heterosexual male given to enhancing his personal appearance by fastidious grooming, beauty treatments, and fashionable clothes.” Metrosexual entered American lingo circa 1994; thus it might be just a matter of years before we find Lumbersexual in Webster as well.

According to gearjunkie.com, the lumbersexual is essentially “a look.”

Today, the metrosexual is a disappearing breed being quickly replaced by men more concerned with existing in the outdoors, or the pseudo-outdoors, than meticulous grooming habits.

He is bar-hopping, but he looks like he could fell a Norway Pine.

He looks like a man of the woods, but works at The Nerdery, programming for a healthy salary and benefits. His backpack carries a MacBook Air, but looks like it should carry a lumberjack’s axe.

He is the Lumbersexual.

Seen in New York, LA and everywhere in between, the Lumbersexual is bringing the outdoor industry’s clothing and accessories into the mainstream.

Whether the roots of the lumbersexual are a cultural shift toward environmentalism, rebellion against the grind of 9-5 office jobs, or simply recognition that outdoor gear is just more comfortable, functional and durable, the Lumbersexual is on the rise.

A quick search of the web conversation about the lumbersexual indicates that everyone agrees that this is essentially selling “a look.” Lumbersexual (noun) has nothing to do with actually being able to wield a table saw or train logs down the river. But apparently, the look is great for picking up women who go for manliness with sensitivity; the Marlboro Man shaken and stirred with Ernest Hemingway and the Brawny Man of Georgia-Pacific paper towels.

The word has undergone some semantic drift as well. According to the Urban Dictionary, lumbersexual is also someone who will have sex with anyone who excites him: “A man who humps anyone who gives him wood. ” The Urban Dictionary, further, makes a clear distinction between Lumbersexual and Lumberjack, the dominant meaning of which is an ugly woman who makes male erections go down: “she “cuts down your wood”.

Peak Beard is the latest addition to a large number of compound words that use the word peak as the stem. Peak is the stem to which suffixes or other lexemes (words) are added in order to create new words. We know several of these already: peak season, peak hour, peak load, peak performance, peak power, peak velocity, peak voltage, peak current, peak value, peak point etc. In all of these constructions, the compound actually refers to an adjunct of Time. All of these peak constructions are about a moment in time after which the head of the compound will decline. Peak here is the superlative/the prime time. In these constructions, the compound is a left branching compound, with peak being the modifier of each respective head: “December is the peak season to buy tickets to India,” where peak season refers to the season when the cost of tickets to India is at the highest or most expensive. This can be expressed as “ticket fare has peaked.” So the peak in peak season could be something like a past participle that functions like an adjectival modifier of the head season. Each one of the above examples follows the same parsing: adjective/participle + noun compounds. Peak + X indicates that X has reached its maximum value/height. After Peak X, things will decline.

Peak Beard does not follow this structure. I don’t think. Here the peak refers to the noun peak. Peak (noun) refers to the projecting outward (and upward) part of a structure; a mountain, for instance. Peak is the pointed top of a mountain. The peak of your cap is the stiff brim that sticks out. When you straddle the peak of a wave, you are riding it at the very top. The peak galyard of a sailing boat raises the gaff away from the mast.

The peak beard is a peak like all the above, except that it is peaking downward and not upward like peaks do in nature. It is not the peak of peak season. The peak of the peak beard will not decline; if unkempt, it might grow scraggly. Hugh Jackman could look like Leo Tolstoy, but in keeping with lumbersexuals, it will only be a look, since Hugh Jackman is not Leo Tolstoy. Apparently, there was some discussion in 2013 whether we have reached peak beard. I have to answer in the negative, since I see more than America. I don’t think we have reached peak beard. All over the world, especially in the middle east and south Asia, beard is still the dominant signifier of masculinity.

Has the word peak peaked yet as a descriptor? It is hard to tell.  There was a certain cultural moment when, apparently, we had reached peak wingnut (point of terminal craziness by Republicans), peak oil (point of maximum oil output) and peak banana (point of maximum banana production). These exciting things happened in 2008 and I completely did not know about it. Peak X also remains well and fine in street speak if we are to go by the Urban Dictionary. There is Peak Friendship (the highest point of friendship after which you cannot stand the friend), Peak Arson (this is burning your gas guzzling SUV after you have reached Peak Oil in an attempt at insurance fraud) and a number of scatological Peak X inventions that will make you sit up straight in your chair and say “what”?

What is most interesting about the Urban Dictionary entries about Peak though is how the word itself is used. The most favored meaning of Peak in slang is the reversal of its original meaning: the highest/ the maximum etc.  Slang Peak means low/hitting the bottom. This tells us that slang is often created by either intensifying or deviating from the standard usage. For instance, when we make words like “crack city,” “garbage city, “fat city,” “snow city” etc, we use the word “city” to intensify the property of X that modifies it.  Peak slang seems to compound new words by inverting the meaning of Peak in new and unexpected ways.  Urban Dictionary lists at least twenty different usages for peak, all of them equally bizarre. A 2014 entry for peak lists the meaning of the word thusly:

Definition One

When something beyond comprehension has happened to you or some one else you know, positive or negative you say the word peak to portray the sheer level of OMG

Definition Two

Peak times are times where life has thrown some crazy stuff at you and everything is just WOAAAAAAAH.

Usually a hand sign is involved which symbolises a mountain peak. If something is that deep the word doesn’t even have to be said, you can just do the hand sign

Definition Three
When someone has been embarrassed so much so you feel the need to acknowledge the extent to which they have been wrecked

Guy: My test is tomorrow and I haven’t done any work at all!
Friend: Peak times for you

Girl: Did you hear Jessy is pregnant!!!
Friend: PEAK

In Assembly
HeadTeacher: Why are you wearing that belt, its against school regulations, do you think it looks SEXY- because it doesn’t
Class: OOOOOOOooo *giggles*
A few members of class: Peak

 

The earliest entries are from 2003 where peak means both “the highest level of unacceptability; very bad,” and “the best that something can be. Having fun,” both meaning, and its reversal at almost the same cultural moment. The other entries over the years tend towards these two meanings, with the normative meaning indicating an experience that is terribly bad/embarrassing/”gutted”/ seriously bad/taboo. In other words, peak has a downward vector in street speak/slang; things cannot decline any further. This is an interesting reversal of the root meaning of the word.
Here are a few Peak X cultural moments that I am personally waiting for: Peak Ebola; Peak Navy-Seal-Who-Shot-Osama-bin-Laden; Peak Obama Immigration plans; and, of course, though I have no realistic basis for this wish, Peak Wingnut.

 

 

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