Popular is a word that is utilized in the everyday vocabulary of so many people, yet understood by so few. Frequently being referred to as “pop”, the prefix of popular, the word popular seems to have taken on the meaning of “new” or “modern”. Allowing words like “pop-culture” and “pop-music” to evolve, this new usage of the word popular exemplifies how the term has conformed to fit the modern abbreviation of texting language. Making it easier and quicker for people to write out, or even say, the term “pop-culture” as opposed to the phrase “popular culture”, the present use of the word popular seems to be oddly similar to its original meaning. Unbeknownst to most, the Cambridge English dictionary has the word popular under two definitions: “for or involving ordinary people rather than experts or very educated people” and “liked, enjoyed, or supported by many people”. Surprised by the definitions of the word which had absorbed my thoughts for most of my middle school years, I did not understand how the word, which comes from the latin word “populus” or “people” was defined as a word that was for “ordinary people”.
Remembering a middle school where the “popular” kids seemed to be anything but “ordinary people”, I was confused when I saw this definition which, I believed, had to be incorrect. Immediately picturing girls, their straight hair bouncing as they walk up the middle school stairs. Wearing their puffy jackets, leggings, and UGG boots confidently, as if each item of clothing was apart of a uniform; separating them from the rest of the school. A herd of sheep, making it impossible to distinguish the leader from the follower. In a school which seemed to put everyone under the burning, bright light of a magnifying glass. Magnifying your flaws and your every moves. Remembering my first discoveries of the word popular, and the imaginary line that it had created, which separated the popular kids from my ordinary friends. I can see that now the negative connotation, of the word popular, has been ingrained in my mind as a result of the middle school memories I made. As a young teen hearing about the word that defined the imaginary aura that surrounded my peers, who were the trendsetters- introducing the fads that began to take over- I had tried to ignore the feeling of jealousy that seemed to optimize this new addition to my vocabulary. Like a pack of wolves, the “popular” kids were constantly roaming through the halls of the school as though were protected by the power of numbers. Seemingly more mature, and more powerful, than myself I was always afraid to talk to these girls, for fear of being made fun of. Never wanting to challenge their authority, I tried my best to separate myself from these “popular” girls who seemed to have control of my mind even though I had never spoken to them. Always floating around in the back of my mind this word, to me, clearly seemed to be the definition of the girls and boys in my school who were the complete opposite of ordinary. I always thought that my friends, and the majority of the students in my grade were the “ordinary people”, but it was now clear to me that we did not make up the percentage of children who were “ordinary people”, according to the definition of the word popular. Appearing all around me, I began to wonder what/who set these imaginary standards. And how did the “rules of popularity” seem naturally implanted in the memory and knowledge of my brain.
Returning to these questions as an older, and a more mature teen, with a greater understanding of life, I conducted quick, simple research in order to find the true definition of this powerful term. As I began my research, and as I read through the varying definitions of this word, I realized that the definition of popular that I was searching for would not be found in the dictionary. A controversial term, which seems to be part of the “unspoken language” of teenagers, it appears that everyone has their own definition of the word popular, depending on the experience they had, and which side of the imaginary line they were standing on. The imaginary line separated people based off of their looks, clothes, and wealth, yet ignored the importance of one’s personality. Only able to understand one side, and one definition of the word “popular”, I do not believe that the Cambridge English dictionary had the definition that I was looking for. For me, the definition was unable to capture the unwelcoming feeling that I felt when the “popular” kids walked past me in the hallway. Wearing identical shirts, pants, and shoes, I felt like I was the complete opposite of these girls. Never aware of the new fashions, I was always left feeling as though I was different, as though I did not belong.
Coming from the Latin word “populus” which means “people”, one would expect that this word would be used freely by all people. But in reality it seems to be the opposite. Many students are not aware of this, or are too afraid to point out, the rules which are associated with the word popular. Never being discussed in public, due to the imaginary social mores which everyone seems to understand, it is a known fact that no one should ever point out this unusual hierarchy that the term “popular” has created. Only being talked about in a whisper, it is rare to hear the word being discussed in public. In fear of committing social suicide, these rules go unspoken among peers. Popular, the word which is supposed to be “for or involving ordinary people” has created an environment that separates and scares this same majority. Social suicide, or the destruction of one’s social life, is a constant thought on the minds of middle and high school students alike. I believe that students at this age should not have to worry about conforming and fitting into the standards that the word “popular” has created. In every school, every where in the world, kids are dealing with the stress that this word produces. Constantly causing anxiety and depression this word, whose meaning has been ignored for years, needs to be brought to the attention of students and teachers, adults and children, all over the world. Student’s lives should not be controlled by their own insecurity and confusion. No one should have to feel hatred and questioning of their own identity, due to the imaginary social standards that this word has formed. As opposed to being completely ignored I think that people should start to express, and share with others, the self-doubt that they feel as a result of the word “popular”. As humans, we should stop trying to disregard the truth, and instead we should acknowledge that the term “popular” has never made anyone feel like they are actually “ordinary”.
“Popular Meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary.” Cambridge Dictionary.