Word Watch



The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition.

glass-tower people, the professional and managerial members of the U.S. upper middle class, who are college-educated, economically ascendant, and sophisticated to the extent that they understand and encourage change and cultural diversity. Also called the have-mores: "The middle class, long the balance wheel of American society, is beginning to fissure along fault lines of income, values and lifestyle. It is cleaving into the have-mores--'the glass-tower people,' Labor Secretary Robert Reich calls them--and the have-lesses" (Wall Street Journal).

Background: Glass-tower people--a term with obvious links to ivory tower--joins a small but growing lexicon of class conflict. Some established examples are cultural elites and angry white males. Less well known terms include unearned advantage (or unearned privilege), skin-color privilege, and male privilege, expressions used by Peggy McIntosh, a philosopher of education at Wellesley College, to point up the social stratification that race, sex, and class can create.


human bowling, a form of entertainment in which players roll a round steel-mesh cage into which a person has been strapped down a padded runway in an attempt to knock down six heavy, oversized pins at the end: "Alcohol- and drug-free parties have followed proms and graduations for years, but movies and bingo look pretty tame compared to today's gigs that run more than $10,000 in wealthier suburbs. The same boys and girls who once were entertained with birthday party magicians now look forward to bungee runs and Velcro walls, sumo wrestling and human bowling, all between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m." (Washington Post).

Background: Human bowling, virtual-reality games, and various inflatable activities--such as bungee runs and gladiator jousting, which are held on inflatable surfaces--are catching on as after-prom entertainment intended to keep students sober and off the roads. Many high school students are now spending more money on their after-prom parties than on the proms themselves, sometimes beginning fundraising activities as early as freshman year. Parties are often spiced up with prizes that have been donated by corporations or parents, such as small television sets, microwave ovens, and dorm refrigerators.


MacGyver bomb, slang, an explosive device consisting of a plastic or glass bottle filled with volatile household chemicals and then capped, which explodes either on impact or from a buildup of internal pressure. Also called bottle bomb; chemical bomb; soda-bottle bomb; two-liter bomb. "'I've run across MacGyver bombs for a couple [of] years now and made some arrests,' [Taylorville, Ill., arson-and-bomb-squad investigator Richard] Sutton said" (Springfield, Ill., State Journal-Register).

Background: This term was coined in association with the 1985-1991 television action drama MacGyver, whose protagonist used household products to jury-rig all manner of devices, including bombs (no complete recipe for which was aired). The term has appeared in print since at least 1992, in descriptions of numerous incidents, usually mailbox bombings, perpetrated by teenagers.


trash cover, the clandestine removal and analysis, and sometimes the return, of all or some of the household refuse of a suspect in any type of investigation, such as one involving espionage, organized crime, drugs, or counterterrorism, in order to acquire evidence or to draw a personal profile: "[FBI agent Leslie G. Wiser Jr.] said he initiated the September [1993] trash cover [of then-CIA officer Aldrich H. Ames] because his team was 'depressed and upset' that Ames had eluded them the previous week" (Washington Post).

Background: After the Federal Bureau of Investigation's elite Special Surveillance Group swiftly removed Ames's trash can in the dark of night and substituted a look-alike, it retrieved a penciled draft of a note Ames had attached to secret documents he had recently turned over to the Russians. According to David Major, a retired FBI supervisory special agent and a former director of counterintelligence at the National Security Council, trash covers are used by private investigators and corporate sleuths engaged in "competitive intelligence" as well as by law-enforcement officers. A targeted person's refuse can yield the names of banks, the names and addresses of friends and acquaintances, and clues to an individual's personal behavior. Though the term has been a fixture in law-enforcement jargon for many years, it is rarely seen in general contexts.



The Atlantic Monthly; December 1995; "Word Watch"; Volume 276, No. 6; page 140.



Presented by

The Blacksmith: A Short Film About Art Forged From Metal

"I'm exploiting the maximum of what you can ask a piece of metal to do."

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."

Video

Carrot: A Pitch-Perfect Satire of Tech

"It's not just a vegetable. It's what a vegetable should be."

Video

An Ingenious 360-Degree Time-Lapse

Watch the world become a cartoonishly small playground

Video

The Benefits of Living Alone on a Mountain

"You really have to love solitary time by yourself."

Video

The Rise of the Cat Tattoo

How a Brooklyn tattoo artist popularized the "cattoo"
More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In