Word Games: Telegentsia

Sometimes a word comes along that makes you feel sick. It doesn't happen very often. But when it does, you sense it deep in the gut: word-nausea is visceral. Enter "telegentsia". Yes, that's right, a witty little twist on "intelligentsia". Surely intelligentsia - originally Russian, from the 19th century - was bad enough, with its inference of snooty clever-cleverness and Islington types in the 1990s.

But telegentsia takes the shudder factor to a new level. I heard the word for the first time from a friend recently and gagged. It refers to cerebral folk involved in, or fans of, superior television (think The Wire, Mad Men, House); the kind of television that sprouts internet communities who debate every frame, that people buy in box sets and learn off by heart, that inspires levels of devotion you'd think were appropriate for lovers, or pets.

Thank the Lord, it doesn't seem to have caught on much yet. I found a passing mention on a Guardian comment thread (quelle surprise) and in the New York Times: "Any notion that the Hollywood telegentsia hovers above the fan-site fray was shattered two years ago when Aaron Sorkin,creator of The West Wing, bitterly responded to an online complaint."

The "Hollywood telegentsia": kill me now. (Also: don't tar the mighty Sorkin with this mucky brush; he's too good with words to be brought down by one).

I'm not sure why I find the word so grisly. There's something inherently irritating about intellectual telly types, I suppose. But it's not that. It's the word itself, it's whoever created the word, it's the people who use it - gossipy commentariat types - it's the fact that the people who use it clearly love using it because it's zeitgeist-y, a new trend, a catchphrase. Puke. It's a Sunday supplement feature waiting to happen: "The new Queen of the Telegentsia", with a giant picture of Davina McCall next to it.

But no, it's not Davina's fault. It's my fault: I don't like glib catch-all terms for humans. We're all different - stop trying to turn us into some spurious media meme. (Meme! Don't even get me started on meme.)

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 24 January 2011 issue of the New Statesman, State of Emergency