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  • Interesting article.
    Do you think the same overuse and dilution applies to ‘smart’? Maybe it’s a word I’m oversensitive to because it’s also my family name, but I feel it gets slapped willy-nilly on everything these days.

  • Interesting question, Catharine. The 21st century usage of “smart” is completely different from what preceded it: some of the most frequent collocations today are smart growth, smart card, smart phone, smart bomb, smart grid, and the like. These were unknown 20 years ago. Some of these terms are bona fide compound nouns, of with “smart phone” is the best example. My sense is that as an attributive modifier, smart hasn’t lost its luster yet but may be on the verge of doing so.

  • Excellent analysis, Orin. As you say, it’s the word’s suggestion of uniqueness and distinctiveness that appeals to consumers and the marketing departments targeting them, but inevitably those connotations will be undermined by widespread commercial exploitation of the term.
    I hadn’t noticed the usage creeping in, but I’ll look out for it now.

  • The data I’ve looked at pretty much matches the categories you mention, Orin: clothes, music, style, and above all food and drink. ‘Signature dish’ is the single commonest combination. Shoes, sneakers, and even soles make a good showing (‘Top brand Christian Louboutin Boots with signature red sole is well-known by most fashionistas’), as do drinks, cocktails, martinis etc. The nearest i could find to a burrito was many refs to signature burgers, some of them alarmingly expensive: ‘My wife had a passble prawn salad, while i tried their signature burger ($28).’. But the word is clearly becoming devalued. I was struck by how many plural examples there were of the (very frequent) combination ‘signature cocktail’, e.g. ‘The Cellar Bar offers signature cocktails, music entertainment and a weeknight, one-hour open bar for hotel guests.’ Surely if it’s signature, there should only be one??

  • Interesting observations, Michael. I think that when ‘signature’ appears on a menu for either food or drink it can be interpreted as a code word for ‘significantly more expensive.’