I was reading the Economist’s Gulliver blog, when I came across this line: “EXTRA fees get under the skin of all but the most zen travellers.” It looks as though the new sense of Zen isn’t just an American phenomenon. Of course, not all writers for the Economist are British, so perhaps it’s some New Yorker contributing here. This usage of Zen seems to mean ‘dispassionate’ or ‘detached’, as used in many other contexts.
I’ve mentioned before that I’m not really bothered by this pop-culture appropriation of the word Zen (or is it a mainstream innovation? progressive linguistic creativity?), but I thought to blog about this particular occurrence of Zen for one simple reason: it’s an adjective.
In most other instances where you see Zen used in this pop-culture sense, it’s used in ways which could arguably be either a noun or an adjective. For example, “That’s so Zen” or “He has a very Zen attitude.” You could just as easily say, “That’s so Los Angeles” or “He has a very San Francisco attitude” where Zen has been replaced by Los Angeles and San Francisco (both nouns), respectively. (Or at least you can say that here in Southern California.) In the case of the Economist, it’s almost incontestably an adjective. I don’t think you can say, “Extra fees get under the skin of all but the most Los Angeles travelers.”
I’ve always felt that this new appropriation of Zen is an adjective, but I never felt I had solid evidence. Now I finally have my proof. Phew.