Word Watch

A selection of terms that have newly been coined, that have recently acquired new currency, or that have taken on new meanings, compiled by the executive editor of
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The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition.

explornographya consuming fascination with famous and, especially, dangerous explorations -- for example, Richard Byrd's expeditions to Antarctica -- that may include a desire to retrace such trips in person: "We had been seduced by an odd modern phenomenon, the glorification of exploration at a time when the entire planet has been mapped. The Age of Exploration has been succeeded by the Age of Explornography" (New York Times Magazine).
BACKGROUND: Soft-core explornographers are content to experience super-dangerous adventure travel vicariously, a thrill easily had through books and films. Hard-core explornographers -- a group whose number has been rising sharply in recent years -- spend vast sums on gear, guides, training, and whatever else is needed to undertake such expeditions themselves. These explornographers are, typically, outdoorsy amateurs, many of whom live and work in urban settings. A good proportion are women, and the average age of hard-core explornographers of both sexes is about fifty.
land-based bookstorea bookstore set up to serve customers who visit physical premises, as opposed to an online bookseller. Also called physical bookstore. "The rapid growth [of online bookstores] has given rise to a whole new lexicon to describe the evolving literary trade -- traditional 'land-based' bookstores versus a new wave of digital bookstores" (New York Times).
BACKGROUND: The modifier land-based is an example of retronymy -- the qualification of a term that once had a single, well-established meaning but now must be distinguished from variants arising, in many cases, from technological advances or changing lifestyles. Thus we must specify snail mail -- letters -- as opposed to E-mail; hard copy as opposed to copy transmitted by computer or fax; birth parent as opposed to adoptive parent; and ocean surfing as opposed to channel or Internet surfing.

muscle candy slang,a dietary supplement used by athletes to increase their energy and strength. Also called performance enhancer, "Teenage jocks are copying their heroes and sucking down protein potions, creatine cocktails and a laundry list of other over-the-counter muscle candies" (Denver Post).
BACKGROUND: Probably the most popular muscle candy on the current sports scene is creatine, a synthetic version of a compound that occurs naturally in the liver and kidneys and stores the high-energy phosphate needed for muscle contractions. Athletes who use creatine consider it a legal alternative to steroids; like steroids, it increases muscle mass, though the extent to which it can do so is a matter of debate. Other muscle candies include whey protein, which is said to increase the body's production of nitrogen and insulin -- substances important to muscle growth -- and vanadyl sulfate, which mimics insulin's effects. The long-term consequences of taking creatine and other muscle candies are unknown, and their use, especially by teenagers, is consequently controversial. The term joins a small but growing cluster of other euphemistic candies: nose candy (cocaine), seen as long ago as 1925; ear candy (a piece of light music), from at least 1984 and discussed in this space in 1987; eye candy (an especially beautiful person), seen in 1984 in advertising lingo; and arm candy (a date of either sex who has been chosen for his or her attractiveness), from at least 1992.

reinforced clothingrelatively lightweight, inconspicuously armored attire designed to be worn by private citizens as protection against armed attack. Also called bulletproof clothing, "The reinforced-clothing boom, which has created a multimillion-dollar business as part of a growing security industry [in Colombia], is not just an urban phenomenon" (Washington Post).
BACKGROUND: Reinforced clothing has become a craze in Colombia, where the homicide rate is several times that in the United States. It includes items for everyday wear, such as suits and raincoats, and also formal garments, such as tuxedos and ball gowns, and comes in varying degrees of ballistic resistance. The term recalls two other counterterrorism terms that rely on euphemism and carry overtones of domesticity, both of which were discussed in this space in May of 1988: appliqué armor, used to protect vehicles, and bomb blanket, used by bomb-disposal squads to contain explosions.

Illustration by Michael C. Witte


The Atlantic Monthly; December 1998; Word Watch; Volume 282, No. 6; page 120.



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