As a self-professed fan of the English language, I like to think I stay hip with our ever-evolving lingo, but I learned a new vocabulary word this week. It came to my attention during a news story about a 16-year-old boy in Texas who, as part of his defense in a drunk driving case, claimed he suffered from a condition called affluenza, or poor-little-rich-kid syndrome.
His legal team said he couldn't be held accountable for his actions because he was too rich to understand that other people are, well, people too. His parent's wealthy lifestyle makes them responsible for his affliction. They were so busy buying him expensive vehicles, designer clothing and lavish toys that they forgot to teach him right from wrong. Or so the story goes. In other words, this whole thing is not his fault.
Yeah, I know. If it weren't true, it might be funny. But it's not, because it is.
Affluenza may be a new concept for me, but the word's been around for decades and was the topic of a PBS documentary in 1997 and at least two books - in 2001 and 2006 - one of which describes affluenza as a "painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition." Ouch. According to the online Oxford Dictionary, the noun originated way back in the 1970s. I guess the rich have been suffering for much longer than I ever would have thought.
I am a skeptic. I question the accuracy of the description of the "disease." It's hard to imagine wealth being painful, but I guess I wouldn't know until I've tried it. As for the condition being contagious, I have been hoping to catch affluenza for as long as I can remember, and despite my reckless behavior (I hardly ever wipe the cart handle with the disinfectant wipes provided by the superstore) I have yet to become infected with any sort of superfluous affluence. Finally, the only socially transmitted disease I've ever come down with is something I call kidfluenza, which I contracted on at least four separate occasions - each episode lasting the better part of nine months.
A logical person might not buy this affluenza defense. In fact, she might go so far as to say affluenza isn't real and is a fancy term made up by some rich person's hired psychologist. I'd tend to agree with this - if logic were the issue here.
Some things - like flying reindeer or putting a dead tree in your living room - are just too illogical not to be logical. You couldn't make up something so outrageous. Affluenza fits comfortably into this category. It's too bizarre not to be the real deal.
As a parent, this worries the heck out of me - not about my kids contracting affluenza (we should be so lucky). My concerns are bigger and more widespread.
Consider the implications: if kids can blame their problems on their parent's wealth, what's next? For the last 20 years, I have been a completely imperfect parent and could be accused of spreading any one of a number of afflictions to my children including strictodystrophy, do-without syndrome, no-means-noriasis, lose-my-temperitis, procrastipation, and acute crabbiosis - to name just a few.
It's pretty clear; I've been a veritable wrecking ball in my kids' lives. They're so messed up, they'll probably never catch affluenza and will be forced endure a plain, everyday existence like mine: One where there isn't enough money to really count, but we feel rich - in all the ways that matter.
Jill Pertler is an award-winning syndicated columnist, playwright and author of "The Do-It-Yourselfer's Guide to Self-Syndication" You can read more and follow her column on the Slices of Life page on Facebook.