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