Alternative

January 23, 2017 ☞ Word of the day

Offering a choice of two things. Disjunctive.

A 1995 issue of Spin Magazine deserves thanks for embedding today’s word into my consciousness. Alongside their Beck idolatry and a critical analysis of Menthos commercials, the mag waxed breathlessly about the new genre of musical expression. This is not your parents’ rock and roll. This is alternative.

Spin, Jan 1995, Vol. 10, No. 10Spin, Jan 1995, Vol. 10, No. 10

There’s a lot buried in these 11 (count ’em) letters. The words “alter” and “native” may be obvious, but I still feel like a tee-shirt brand could have some fun with that. I see “altern” which immediately brings to mind “subaltern,” my favorite way to introduce a coworker. And there’s “alterna” which surely must be a brand of insurance or healthcare. (Hair care! So close.)

Despite my efforts, there is no way to rattle the letters of alternative into a good word of equal length. Like a game of Go Fish however, pairs abound.

In alternative, you will find:

Three instructions you’d find in an RPG:

Three names for a disruptive wine technology:

Three names for X-ian rock bands

Three names for X-ian prog rock bands

Three names of formerly X-ian ska/rocksteady bands

Three sci-fi novels written by someone probably born in Eastern Europe

Three titles of the lowest-grossing children’s movies of 2002

Three punchlines to dirty jokes:

Three things I don’t want to eat:

Three things I might want to eat:

Three Things to strive for:


It’s worth mentioning, that alternative has a usage problem.

Unlike “option” or “selection” where one freely chooses among opportunities, possibly many of them in a range, “alternative” implies a binary selection which negates its opposite. In choosing, one rejects the other possibility. The alternative lifestyle is not the traditional lifestyle. The alternative brand is not the leading, popular brand. The alternative route is not the way you’d usually get there. In this understanding of alternative, there is a fork in the road. A dilemma.

The White House has a usage problem too. Their burgeoning collection of alternative facts would be laughable, were it not so sad. Consider that the new administration trades not in “facts,” which are defined as:

  1. noun. the quality of being actual: a question of fact hinges on evidence

But in the alternative to that. The un-actual. The devoid-of-evidence. The un-real.