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WOSTER: Halloween far less scary than ‘trending’ trend

Terry Woster, Daily Republic Columnist  Normally on the day before Halloween, I’d try to craft a scary piece about ghosts and goblins and zombies and witches and home-made monsters and, you know, the horde of grade-school kids who will come to my door expecting candy tomorrow evening.

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This year, though, it’s late upon a midnight dreary. As I pondered weak and weary over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore (yeah, that’s Poe, all right, and he’s pretty scary himself when he wants to be) anyway, weak and weary, pondering, etc., I came upon a word that, as I examined it and learned more about it, scared me more than having a raven come tapping at my door.

The word? “Trending.”

I’ve been seeing the word from the corner of my eye for a while now as I’ve signed on to my Yahoo mail account. Usually, I’m so intent on the business of getting the mail or sending a message that I ignore that whole side of the screen, along with the pop-up messages and ads and invitations. You know the kind of stuff I mean. This night, for some reason, I paid attention. I decided to check it out.

First step was to determine just exactly what “trending” means. I found a nice website that told me this:

“Think of trending as the results of a popularity contest that never ends, or a search phrase that has gone viral. If someone or something is trending, that means that a lot of people are searching, blogging, and Tweeting about it.” Well, I thought, are we all sure “Tweeting” is capitalized?

Next thing I noticed was that the definition I just read had been voted most popular or something. I guess it’s as if the definitions for the words in “Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, 2nd Edition,” were something to be determined by a popularity contest. “Illiterate means this,” “No, I think it means this.” “Hey, I have it. Let’s vote on what it means.”

I got myself past the notion that word meanings could be determined by popular vote (which, you have to admit, is scary), and I saw that trending is kind of a David Letterman “Top Ten” list.

In this case, the trending list on my screen read: Catherine Zeta Jones, Britney Spears, Suzann Pettersen, Edna Krabappel, Yuengling Brewery fire, Hailee Steinfeld, Olivia Munn, JFK, Popcorn Sutton and JonBenet Ramsey. Weak and weary, I pondered. The first thing that came to mind was the old “Sesame Street” bit about “one of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn’t belong.” But in this case, most of these things were not like the others, to my way out-of-the-popular-culture state of being. None of them belonged in the same universe as JFK, it seemed to me. So, what are they doing together?

OK, I don’t keep up with all the latest stuff, but I know the first name was in “Chicago,” the second one was a Mouseketeer, and the last one disappeared from her home in Colorado several years ago. Somewhere on one of the news sites or newscasts, I saw a clip about the brewery fire in Florida. The rest of the list? Not a clue.

Search engines are among the positive things about the age of technology. I learned Suzann is a hot female golfer, Edna is a character on “The Simpsons” who really was Carol on “The Bob Newhart Show,” Hailee is a teenager who played in the remake of “True Grit” I never saw, and Popcorn Sutton’s real name was Marvin and he was a moonshiner. O-o-o-kay, then.

However, to give technology its due, I discovered that Olivia Munn is in fact the actress who plays Sloan on “The Newsroom.” I’d never paid attention to the names of the actors or actresses on that show or in most movies or TV shows. But Sloan is my favorite character from “The Newsroom.” Maybe it’s because she’s incredibly complicated, or maybe it’s just because she speaks in a voice I can hear and understand.

I looked at the trending list again. Half the names had changed. Really? I’m not wired for this stuff.