Of wing nuts and pescatarians

Are you a wing nut pretexting as a netroots advocate on webinars and thought you could blend in anonymously?

Or a soju-, prosecco- and edamame-loving pescatarian—but not part of an esoteric religion?

Well, your cover was blown on Monday as words from “wing nut” (one who advocates extreme measures or changes)—to “pescatarian” (a vegetarian whose diet includes fish) were added to the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, a reference work for American wordsmiths.

New entries—and there are about 100 every year—paint a sociological map of trends in the United States today. This year’s entries show that Americans are becoming technology-steeped foodies with a keen interest in medicine.

“The three richest sources of new words in the last decade have been technology, foreign words for food, and medical terms. This shows these are effectively growth areas in American culture,” said Merriam-Webster‘s editor-at-large, Peter Sokolowski.

“We know there’s a recent obsession with cooking shows on television, but the world is also getting smaller and we are more exposed to different cuisines these days.
So that helps explain the food terms,” he said.

“Technology is self-explanatory: the internet is a relatively new phenomenon and we need words to describe it. The medical terms, I think, correspond to the ageing population of America and the technological and research abilities that accompany that.”

A word only wins its place in the dictionary after passing Merriam-Webster‘s “carefully edited prose” test.

“If a word appears frequently in print without parentheses, without appearing in italics, without any kind of explanation, then that’s a word that editors and writers assume their readers know and understand. That word should be in the dictionary,” Sokolowski said.

But not all of the additions are new words: some are included because they have passed from specialised fields of use into the mainstream, while others are new senses given to old words.

Among this year’s newcomers is “dirty bombs”, included because in today’s world of terrorist plots and war, it is oft-mentioned in the press and on respected websites.

But dirty bombs first appeared in print in 1956.

“It is not a new word at all,” said Sokolowski. “It was probably a specialised term at first, used among military analysts and government officials, and has finally expanded to the point where the general population is expected to know and understand this word. Therefore, it has to be in the dictionary.”

The word “subprime” might seem to have been around forever and has entered into everyday-speak in the US, so often is it mentioned in the press.

But it is another addition to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, and another reflection of the current state of the US, which has been swept by a housing crisis as holders of risky, subprime mortgages have defaulted and banks and agencies who arranged the loans have gone bankrupt.

“Subprime” is defined as “having or being an interest rate that is higher than a prime rate and is extended especially to low-income borrowers”.

Incidentally, edamame are immature soybeans; prosecco is an Italian sparkling wine; and soju is a Korean vodka made from rice.

A webinar is an online seminar; netroots are grassroots activists who use the internet as a medium; and someone who pretexts presents themselves as someone else with a view to gaining access to information.—Sapa-AFP

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