Aerosolized Precarity

Having been involved with languages, both natural and programming, for a time, I always experience a moment of pleasurable surprise when I meet a word I feel I should have met before.

Today’s new friend is “precariat.” It comes to me from Viet Thanh Nguyen, a writer who teaches English at the University of Southern California; author, most recently, of “The Refugees” and editor of “The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives.”

A precariat is a person from a class that lives in a state of precarity, whose employment and income are insecure, whose existence lacks predictability as well as security.

The word has the added attraction of (a) being British, and (b) being a portmanteau word built from “precarious” and “proletariat.” What’s not to like? — as it says on the wall of my favorite Jewish deli.

Here’s how Mr. Nguyen uses “precariat”:

If the illusion of invincibility is shredded for any patient who survives a near-fatal experience, then what might die after Covid-19 is the myth that we are the best country on earth, a belief common even among the poor, the marginal, the precariat, who must believe in their own Americanness if in nothing else.

His essay points to the root of our precarity:

What this crisis has revealed is that, while almost all of us can become vulnerable — even corporations and the wealthy — our government prioritizes the protection of the least vulnerable.

(Viet Thanh Nguyen, “The Ideas That Won’t Survive the Coronavirus,” NYTimes, 4-10-20)

(c) 2020 JMN

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day, and watch Netflix and Prime Video for entertainment. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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