Oh, this collaborative age!
Have you noticed that no one seems to do anything solo anymore? That may be an exaggeration - but not by much.Skip to next paragraph
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Books nowadays seem as likely to be written by teams of coauthors as by lone scribes. Organizations have cofounders, rather than single founders. Revisionist historians, I expect, will soon be writing about the Cofounding Fathers, or maybe Cofounding Parents.
Museum shows have "co-curators." In the world of TV and film, "coproducer" and "co-creator" are familiar terms. The latter sounds as if it could apply to anyone in the room when the big brainstorm hits. Or maybe it's the beginning of a bad joke: "How many people in Hollywood does it take to make the light bulb come on?"
My point? Keep an ear out for the "co" prefix, and you'll hear it everywhere. It's a sign of language changing as patterns of thought and activity change.
The "co" prefix derives from the Latin "cum," meaning "with" or "together." It's long been established, with variations, in Latin-derived words like collaborate (to work or to labor together) or connect (from words meaning "to fasten together"). More recently it's been stuck rather awkwardly onto Anglo-Saxon terms, as in, "Over the weekend, I co-wrote a song with my boyfriend." This is the verbal equivalent of mixing stripes and checks: You've got to know what you're doing. And note, by the way, the insistence on the redundant "co-wrote," even with the "with my boyfriend." It's as if "co-writing" were materially different from "writing."
I have a professional interest in "co" words: As the copy desk chief of my newspaper, I have to pay attention to whether we hyphenate them, as with "co-creator," or close them up, as we say, as we do with "coauthor," for instance. We generally close them up. We've made some exceptions, such as for "co-workers": Closed up, "coworkers" sound like the people who ork the cows. And that is orksome indeed. But nowadays "co" coinages are coming so thick and fast that I'm not sure readers can keep up. I'm inclined to hyphenate them until they become more familiar.
We have co-parenting and even "co-principal investigator." My personal fave is "co-coordinator." Will we find out that what we should have had in the first place was an "ordinator"? It's enough to drive me - or maybe even all of us who coordinate people who care about such things - nuts, or should I say, co-conuts?
But all this may not be necessarily a bad sign. The dotcommers' bubble has long since burst, but their collaborative work styles live on. It makes me wish I'd invested big in whiteboards and dry-erase markers 20 years ago.
Then there's the "go big or stay home" factor: All sorts of things once done on a local or regional scale are now seen as naturally requiring a national or even global scale. Read the closing credits carefully at the end of even a low-budget art-house flick and you'll see more international participation than in the president's coalition of the willing. Everybody needs partners - or is that copartners?
Still, there's something to be said for the clarity of one individual's vision, articulated by a single voice, even one crying in the wilderness.
Can you imagine the prophet Jeremiah with a coauthor: "Dunno, Jer, don't you think you're coming down awfully hard? The focus groups tell us that our target demographic finds the really strong language sort of ... I dunno ... disempowering??"
No voice crying in the wilderness here, boss.