The Austin Chronicle

Defining Terms

Why the Chronicle's 35th anniversary is focused on That Word

By Robert Faires, September 2, 2016, Features

In the ongoing battle to define Austin, one word has been deployed more than any other to characterize the city as it was once upon a time and as it is today. I don't need to tell you what it is. No one does. That Word's served up more than breakfast tacos: on bumper stickers and T-shirts, in tourism PR and every travel story written about our city, by reporters and commentators wondering if Austin's still, you know, That Word.

You hear it from the folks who still consider Austin the live freak-flag-flying capital of the world, the folks who insist the city has sold its soul and now occupies a circle of Hell below (shudder) Dallas and Houston, and everyone in between. The problem is, everyone uses That Word and uses it to mean something different: odd, funky, wacky, cool, what-I-think-is-cool, independent, anti-authoritarian, transgressive, progressive, aberrant, bizarre. The frequency and looseness of its usage have debased what was originally just a way of describing Austin's embrace of offbeat nonconformity.

In approaching the Chronicle's 35th anniversary, the staff has been thinking about That Word. It's been at the heart of much of our coverage of this city throughout the paper's history, so it's important for us to know just what we mean by it. To us, it's rooted in the personal passions of the people here, the things they love and pursue with an uncommon intensity, no matter how far out of the mainstream they may be, and which they share openly and publicly with their fellow citizens. Yes, the city has grown and changed, but the presence of so many passionate people following their own idiosyncratic paths hasn't. Weirdness still abounds in Austin, and the Chronicle remains committed to telling you about it in all its forms.

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