Idiot magnet (AMF, Part V)


Here's more help from Ammon Shea in clearing my Word Fugitives backlog. Ammon is the author of Reading the OED, and if anyone would know words that actually exist to meet the needs of fugitive-seeking readers, it's probably ..., um, he.

Jaye Stevens, of Stockton, CA, writes: "I have this uncanny (albeit annoying) knack of being a magnet for every rude idiot whenever I go to a movie theatre.  Is does not matter where I sit -- back row, front row, in the middle, on the aisle -- I always manage to get my seat kicked, or it's the couple with the baby, or it's the dork sending text messages, or the one answering their phone, or the ones who just won't shut up.  Is there such a name for such a dreadful ability to attract the worst patrons?"

Ammon Shea replies: "Although I am tempted to say that the word you are looking for is stomaching (prone to cherishing anger or resentment), I'm afraid that it's not quite correct - it just happens to be the word that springs to mind when I read your letter.

"Aside of a highly colloquial term that I am fairly certain you do not want to hear about (it has something to do with excreta and magnets) there are no single specific words for your particular talent.  Since I am unable to supply you with this word I may as well join the ranks of those who ceaselessly annoy you, and tell you of some words that you didn't ask for.

"What you need at the movies is your very own silentiary (a person who asks for silence, a professional shusher, if you will), of perhaps even an exclosure (which is an area from which undesired animals are excluded) that you can somehow carry about with you.  Should you be unable to procure either of these things before your next trip to the movies, act as your very own silentiary, and by the end of the evening you with doubtless be pelted with popcorn, and happily forplaint (tired out from complaining)."
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Visit Barbara Wallraff’s blog, at barbarawallraff, to see more commentary on language and to submit Word Fugitive queries and words that meet David K. Prince’s need. Readers whose queries are published and those who take top honors will receive an autographed copy of Wallraff’s most recent book, Word Fugitives. More

Barbara WallraffBarbara Wallraff, a contributing editor and columnist for The Atlantic, has worked for the magazine for 25 years. She is also a weekly syndicated newspaper columnist for King Features and the author of Word Fugitives (2006), Your Own Words (2004), and the national best-seller Word Court (2000). Her writing about language has appeared in The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Wilson Quarterly, The American Scholar, and The New York Times Magazine.

Wallraff has been an invited speaker at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, the National Writers Workshop, the Nieman Foundation, Columbia Journalism School, the British Institute Library of Florence, and national or international conventions of the American Copy Editors Society, the Council of Science Editors, the International Education of Students organization, and the Journalism Education Association. She has been interviewed about language on the Nightly News With Tom Brokaw and dozens of radio programs including Fresh Air, The Diane Rehm Show, and All Things Considered. National Public Radio's Morning Edition once commissioned her to copy edit the U.S. Constitution. She is a member of the American Heritage Dictionary Usage Panel. The Genus V edition of the game Trivial Pursuit contains a question about Wallraff and her Word Court column.

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