That’s Really Graphic

Over most of the last rather ignominious years of my life I’ve watched the English language change in several ways, many for the better, many not.  (For example, “impact” has now become a verb.)  I’ve seen new words arise, especially through the influence of computers in our lives, new words such as blog, email, and modem, and new definitions of older words such as virus, browser, and cookie.  Even the space program has added new words to the language.  “Glitch” comes to mind.  But what I’m blogging about today is the evolving definition of a word that’s not related to space or computers–in fact it’s not related to anything new, though in the past few years it’s become a part of the publishing lexicon.  The word is “graphic.”

“Graphic” has a lot of meanings.  A scientist would use it to mean a visual representation on Cartesian coordinates of the change of a dependent variable with the concomitant change of an independent variable.  (Sorry about that.)  In other words, graphic means “it’s being shown on a graph.”  But graphic is also used to indicate extreme or vivid displays, like a graphic description of something.  It’s usually used to mean “not leaving anything out,” most frequently in reference to sexual or violent acts.  I hear the term used on the evening news all the time about scenes from countries in turmoil.  They mean blood and gore and even–as from Syria–people affected by nerve gas.  Graphic has come to mean “it’s all out there for you to see,” or “nothing held back,” violence and pornography at their worst.

There’s more to the word “graphic.”  It also has to do with pictures, not just graphs, like a “graphic” novel.  The “all out there” concept of the word used to be so common in English that when I hear of a “graphic” novel, I figure it must be in the X-rated section of the bookstore.  Yet that’s not the case.  Now “graphic” just means the novel has been reduced to a series of pictures with balloons giving the words of the characters.  Like a cartoon or a comic book, in most cases suitable for children.  The definition is almost reversing itself; it’s like it’s going back to being non-committal, rather than remaining “all out there.”

I suspect that the word “graphic” probably has more definitions that are unrelated or only vaguely related to each other than any other word in English.  It’s related to graphs, to pictures, and even, according to my dictionary, to words themselves and the letters or symbols used to depict them.  That’s a broad range of definitions, and I’m beginning to think it would be better to try and come up with another word to indicate a novel shown in pictures in a cartoonish manner.  However, I haven’t been able to come up with anything now, but I’m working on it.  Anybody got any ideas?

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