Meghan Daum, one of my favorite dead-tree-media columnists and easily the best reason to read the LA Times on Saturdays, has a great column about the word "kumbaya." I have such positive associations with that word. Pine trees, campfires, toasting marshmallows. But alas! Now it is being used to paint people as a little too touchy-feely. So it has kept its old meaning, but also morphed into something strangely other:
"The term allows its users to have their coolness cake and eat it too. To invoke "Kumbaya" is to display one's countercultural credentials while simultaneously letting it be known how stupid and irrelevant those credentials are in today's world. Like those loathsome shibboleths "think outside the box" and "let's take a blue sky approach," which combine self-help jargon with corporate doublespeak, "Kumbaya" manages to be completely earnest and completely disingenuous at the same time."
It is a strange symbol of how fast language is evolving and how different parts of our culture reference each other. Everyone understands what "kumbaya" means, even people who didn't have post-60's campfire experiences. And I don't think the cooption is actually working all that well. It doesn't matter how many times I hear it used as a term of condescension. I don't care if it refers to how airheaded hippies were. I can still reach back and associate it with my own experiences. Which is a solid defense against being emotionally manipulated.