Do You BeneKway? Well Do Ya?
That Friday morning, Matt Jackson woke up tired. He had gone to bed tired, and he expected to feel tired all day. By the time his sorry arse would finally hit the mattress that evening, after a day of yawning chores at Palmer, Palmer, Arnold and Purvis, he would be completely exhausted. And for what? Greyness, monotony and a feeling of despair.
At first he’d been over the moon to be offered a place at such a prestigious law firm. But the novelty of fourteen-hour days in the company of soul-suckingly hard-working squares had soon worn off. These days he found the work tedious, his superiors frightening, and the office depressing. The place had only one redeeming feature: Tina Lloyd-Butler, a junior in the marketing department who was everything it wasn’t. Cool. Funny. Streetwise. Fit. The mere thought of her was enough to send his pulse racing.
Pushing visions of workplace oppression to the back of his mind, Matt stood up achily and trudged toward the bathroom. He didn’t notice his left foot slipping inside the intricate knot that the belt of his dressing gown was describing across the bedroom floor. He tripped and caught himself, just barely, on the edge of his desk, and cursed loudly.
The belt had formed a pattern of sorts, like the letter ‘s’ had been overlaid on itself multiple times. Perhaps it resembled an infinity sign? Whatever. But when liberating his foot from the offending article, something strange happened — he thought he heard the sound of a gong. He couldn’t imagine where the noise might have come from or even if he’d just imagined it, and soon forgot it altogether, oblivious to the fact that the course of his life had just altered forever.
He was in the kitchen tucking into his second bowl of Floating Flakeroonies, when Lucia, his kooky Italian flatmate, ambled in, her long kaftan flowing about her.
“Morning Matt,” she mumbled, before opening the fridge and hurriedly riffling through its contents, moving condiments from one shelf to another and back again.
“Try the door,” Matt said, knowing she was most likely looking for the silly little yogurts she had taken a recent shine to.
“Ah thank you Matthew. What would I do without you?”
She snapped off two of the plastic pots from the family of six, grabbed a tea spoon from the cutlery drawer, sat down at the table and polished off the first one in three and half spoonfuls. Halfway out of the kitchen, Matt paused and turned around. “Why don’t you buy a big pot and save yourself some money? The yogurt, I mean.”
“You’re far too sensible, Matthew. I don’t know what it is about the small ones that endears me to them. They’re just so … BeneKway.”
Beneque? Was that Italian? He started to ask, but stopped himself. He loved Lucia to pieces — as flatmates went, she was second to none — but she was nuts, and prone to making random comments. It was probably an Italian word, he thought, as he shut the front door behind him, or Portuguese. Maybe the yogurts were Brazilian.
Half an hour later, during his commute to work, Matt was making his way along the concourse at Shoreditch High Street Station when he heard someone calling his name.
“Matt Jackson! As I live and breathe.”
“Jockey. Oh my god. What are you doing here? It must be, what, five years since I’ve seen you?”
They hadn’t seen each other since university and had never been especially close. Having covered the basics of where they lived and worked these days within a couple of minutes, they were already struggling for things to say. Each man was preparing to go his respective way, leaving behind a hollow promise to get in touch, when Matt was wrongfooted.
“Good to see you again. I’m definitely keen for those beers. Drop me a message on LinkedIn or something.”
“Likewise, mate. Beers with old uni chums — BeneKway to the max.”
Matt did a double take. That was the same word Lucia had used at breakfast, he was sure of it. Perhaps it wasn’t Italian or Portuguese, after all.
“What did you just say? What to the max?”
“Oh that. BeneKway. It’s one of those stupid internet memes.”
“Oh, a meme. Right.” That made sense. Memes were everywhere now, and impossible to keep up with. He’d only learned what one was a few months ago, having pronounced it “mem’ in front of a load mates on an evening out. If only you could un-say foolish things.
“But what does it mean?”
Jockey held his forearms horizontally alongside one another and rolled them a couple of times, while pulling a buffoon-like expression. He leaned in closer, and said, “It means whatever you want it to mean.”
“Whatever I want it to mean? But what does that mean?”
“Listen, I’m already late, gotta dash. Look it up. I was only using it in an ironic way, obviously. Ciao.”
Using it in an ironic way? How did someone as utterly lame as Jockey even know of this new word’s existence before he did? Lucia he could understand — she was Hoxton through-and-through, totally down with the hipster thing.
A terrible thought presented itself — a thought that had been quietly gathering steam within him. Had he lost his mojo? He used to be one of the cool ones — the person introducing witty neologisms to the group. His personal favourite was “unlutty” — a subtle take on the word “unlucky” that had spread round uni like wildfire. Where had his creative edge gone? It sometimes felt like he was in the middle of a quarter-life crisis.
Seven hours later Matt was in the photocopying room, carefully removing a piece of paper that had become wedged in the printer, when he heard a familiar voice from the doorway behind him.
“Here, let me help. Pulling’s no good, it rips, and then you’re screwed. You open the machine like this, and then ease it out gently. There you go, job’s a good’un.”
Matt accepted the ripped halves of paper from the young woman in front of him and tried not to blush. It was Tina Lloyd-Butler, the girl from marketing, the department where the cool people worked. Dark shiny hair, large green eyes, and a figure to die for. It had been love at first sight.
“Thanks. Was literally about to open that section, you beat me to it. Bloody machines. Hey, are you coming to the work drinks next week?”
“Possibly,” she said, while typing her code into the printer. When its innards started whirring again, she turned to face him and traced her finger round the tattoo on her upper arm. He’d often wondered what the tattoo was of — it looked like a supernova — but had been too shy to ask. “Depends whether I get a better offer. Yay, nay, BeneKway.”
Matt’s heart skipped a beat. His weird exchanges from earlier in the day flashed through his mind. He’d only remembered to google the word during his lunch break, by which time its enunciation had escaped him. Kwene-bay was the closest he’d gotten, knowing it to be wrong. How was someone supposed to respond to the word? A shiver went down his spine. The conversation had “mem two point o,” written all over it.
“Ah, yes, BeneKway indeed. My thoughts exactly.”
She looked at him with a quizzical expression. “You know the word? Awesome! I’ve been waiting for someone to discuss it with. Fascinating movement, right? Especially the BeneKwidium. I’m working on my Kwangle. Do you have one yet?”
The BeneKwidium? His Kwangle? Matt gulped. It was clear he was out of his depth. “Er … sorry. Would love to stay and chat, but I can hear my name being called back in the office. Let’s discuss it at the drinks. BeneKway permitting of course.”
“Yeah, cool. It’s Matt, right?”
“Right.” He grinned because she was smiling at him. She was looking at him like she’d suddenly noticed something about him she’d never noticed before.
He sloped off back to his desk, replaying the incident in his mind. Blagging it seemed to have worked. What was that smile she’d given him? And what the hell were those new words she’d mentioned?
There was no time to google it now. Instead, Matt was pulled into a two-hour long meeting in which twelve items were discussed and zero conclusions were reached, and then the day finally came to an end. He grabbed his jacket and legged it to Four Floors, the pub where he was due to meet his best friend Gyles. At the entrance, a scruffy looking man forced a pamphlet into his hands, before disappearing into the crowd. He glanced at the pamphlet — entitled The Sacred Singularity, A Manifesto — screwed it up and left it in a empty pint glass. Another nutjob wasting his time handing out meaningless drivel.
He soon found Gyles waiting for him with two cold beers, and took a long, thirsty draught. It tasted great — first beers always did — but even better than usual. He looked at his glass in order to remember the name of the beer for later. Narco Sub. Weird name. He was about to ridicule the name, but thought better of it. Cool people didn’t laugh at funny names, they came up with them in the first place.
“How’s tricks? P-PAP treating you OK?” Gyles asked, using the expression Matt’s friends adopted when referring to Matt’s place of work.
“Forget P-PAP,” Matt said with a dismissive wave of the hand. “We have more important things to discuss.”
“Oh yeah, like what? Don’t tell me you’ve finally managed to have your way with Tara from marketing, you dirty dog!”
“It’s Tina. And I wish. Although she seems to be part of this ‘thing,’ whatever this ‘thing’ is.”
“Blimey. You make it sounds like she’s involved in a conspiracy.”
Matt used the back of his hand to wipe the froth from his mouth and paused to gather his thoughts. “You know when you learn a new word and then see it everywhere, like it appears two or three times the following week, or even the following day, and you can’t believe it? The experience is dumbfounding. Is the new word really only appearing everywhere now you’ve learned it, or was it always there, and you were blind to it? That’s happened today, big time. Ever heard of ‘BeneKway’? I don’t even know if I’m saying it right.”
Excellent. Matt knew Gyles would know what was going on, he always did. His friend had a voracious appetite for pop culture and seemed to know about internet crazes before anyone else. Of course, it helped that he had a dossy job in media. From what Matt could make out, Gyles was actually paid to watch stupid YouTube videos.
“Technically speaking, the BeneKway phenomenon is referred to as an ‘ELM’. An ‘evolutionary linguistic movement’. Sounds like total bollocks, I know.”
“An evolutionary linguistic movement? What does that even mean?”
“It all started with an article on Medium entitled ‘Do You Benekway? Well Do Ya?’ which tells the story of someone discovering the movement for the first time and being intrigued by it.”
“The word was introduced as a meme of sorts, one that had the ability to evolve, if the conditions were right.”
“Conditions? What kind of conditions?”
“Simply put, the creator of the word wanted to know if anybody cared enough about it to know more, having read the story. At this stage it wasn’t yet a movement, just a random article that most people gave up reading when they discovered it wasn’t the latest lifehack or self-help list. You know, the usual kind of thing you find on Medium. The article stated that BeneKway could only become a movement if people got involved with it — otherwise it would wither and die. Natural selection and all that. The article was left hanging, a bit like a cliff-hanger in a TV series. It said that a minimum of five people were needed for the movement to continue, five people who should express their interest by pressing the ‘recommend’ button.”
Matt was hanging on his friend’s every word, his pint of Narco Sub left untouched since the first sip. “What happened next? Five people recommended it, obviously, or people like you and Tina wouldn’t know about it.”
“That’s where it gets interesting. Hang on, mate — message,” Gyles said, while digging his phone out of his pocket.
Matt was left to ponder whether he’d have pressed the recommend button, had he come across the article. Had Tina read it? And what was with those other words she’d mentioned in the photocopying room?
Something was becoming apparent: this meme, this movement, this whatever-it-was — he wanted to know everything about it. He wanted to be the person who was in on the joke, the one using it in the correct context, the one casually dropping it into conversations. Could the word help him regain his cool? That was, he suddenly realised, the thing he wanted more than anything.
That was the moment Matt Jackson considered the question for the first time.
Did he BeneKway? Well did he?
Part two is here.