A Meaningless Word

July 31, 2013 by Trina Bartlett
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I absolutely despise the word popular, and I truly believe it is the most meaningless word in the English language.

Its lack of meaning is followed closely by the word “successful,” but popular still tops my list.

Technically, it has a definition, but the way people throw it around, popular is a word with no substance.

But some individuals, even parents, use the word as though it has profound implications.

For example, I recently heard a parent say, “I’m so proud that my daughter did the right thing instead of the popular thing.”

I can’t relate to the father’s choice of words.

If he’d said his daughter didn’t succumb to peer pressure or had made a decision with which her friends didn’t agree, I would have understood.

But “the popular thing?”

popularThat just doesn’t resonate with me.

When I was in high school, there was a self-proclaimed “popular” group, but, ironically, no one outside the group much respected or even liked most of the members.

Granted, they controlled certain spaces in the school, wore overpriced clothes and were generally considered good-looking.

But popular?

They certainly didn’t meet the dictionary definition, which means regarded with favor, approval or affection by the majority of people.

Elite? Maybe. But popular? Not so much.

As an adult I appreciate how most people mature, pursue their own interests and broaden their circle of friends and associates.

Which is why I don’t understand why some parents give any weight to the word popular.

Even now, my children don’t care about how their friends are labeled.

My daughter, who loves the musical Wicked, has proclaimed that she doesn’t understand Glinda, who is pretty but obsessed with popularity. Instead, she relates to Elphaba, the unique and gifted lead character who demonstrates love and compassion for the plight of others, regardless of how they look or what others think of them.

I can only hope I’ve raised my children to do the same.

And if those beliefs don’t make any of us  “popular,” I don’t really care.

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4 Responses to “A Meaningless Word”

  1. Terri L. HamrickNo Gravatar says:


    I am in agreement with this, and I think many folks continue to redefine language through their own ‘viewfinder’ of personal perception, and there is a large dose of promulgation in that. I know language continues to evolve and meanings do change over time and, sadly, by mass misapplication. I am all for evolution of expression- I am not a fan of the misuse/deconstruction as we see currently.

    Are we ‘dumbing it down’ as my grandmother (who taught grade school) would say?

    I too remember the self and otherwise identified ‘popular’ groups/cliques in high school. I was always unimpressed, but at the time lacked the exact reasons why. I know now. I was always unimpressed at folks who recruit/police/and expel individuals through tactics ensuring that they were not inclusive… But ‘exclusive’. Bah! I now realize that I saw it for what it was, covert aggression and the use of power and control.

    One of my friends from high school encountered a high school classmate who was asking about me. This person in his comments referred to me as ‘popular’ and I made some sort of demurring comment, but my friend pointed out that my friends crossed all ‘cliques’ and that I focused on how people treated me and others, not who they were socially or what they had.

    I hope, hope, HOPE that is still true today. And I hope those ‘popular’ kids, who are now adults, that still experience privilege… Use those powers for good. From many who I have interacted with (on social media mainly… And I know the inherent ‘posting bias’ from making widespread assumptions from what is posted…) I think they have.

    I think we have to keep challenging folks to really express the nuanced message, not just to merely affirm what is quickly becoming a societal level vernacular. Hope this makes sense! Sometimes ‘my thinks’ are a bit convoluted!

    • Trina BartlettNo Gravatar says:

      Hey Terri,

      For some reason, your comment got logged up in the systems. Your comments made complete sense to me. And I do think as people mature, most do outgrow that sense of having to be defined by who they associate with and rather by the differences they are making in the lives of others. At least I hope so!


  2. Betty RussellNo Gravatar says:

    I have always hated the word “popular”. I agree with you 100%. When I was in high school they called the “popular” kids the “in” crowd – I was in the “out” crowd or whatever you want to call it. I guess this goes on everywhere – it’s not necessary to make it in life, but at the time to many kids it was very important to be “popular”!!!
    Definitely NOT everyone thought they were “popular”!!! Great blog!!!

    • Trina BartlettNo Gravatar says:

      Betty… I just saw this. The thing I love most about you is that you have the ability to make people across socioeconomic and age groups feel important and good about themselves. If that doesn’t put you in the “in” crowd in my book, I don’t know what does!


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