Word Fugitives


Reasonable people may disagree: Is a husband who puts his friends to shame by lavishing presents on his wife a wanker, a schmuck, maybe even an adulterer, as a few readers of the October Word Fugitives suggested? Some readers seemed more interested in expressing a point of view than in coining a word. John Keresty, of Vernon, N.J., wrote, “I’ve known more of these guys than most. The vast majority are philandering, boisterous blowhards who shower favors on their wives/girlfriends for their personal aggrandizement. And they just love the uncomfortable position that places the other males in.”

Or is such a husband a keeper? That’s how Frank Schellenberg, of Palo Alto, Calif., sees it. He explained, “Funny you should ask about a word for a husband with excessive generosity in the very month we celebrated our tenth an­ni­versary. I had ten bouquets sent to my wife’s office in a daily stream of flowers, and we ran off for a weekend on the California coast all by ourselves, leaving our son with a friend for a sleepover (which he loved).” Many other readers sided with Schellenberg, among them Charlotte Wilson, of Leader, Saskatchewan, who called such a man a wifesaver and asked, “Where do I find one?”

Thomas S. G. Lawrence, of Staten Island, N.Y., thought the man might be described as a Sir Galahad among Galahadn’ts.” Marc A. Werlinsky, of Broomall, Pa., suggested doting Thomas. Lori Peterson, of Gregory, Mich., wondered if the guy was sexpectant. Martha Hill Schafer, of Seattle, thought he was sui generous.

A few people suggested that the existing word uxorious would fill the bill. Others played with that word to coin luxorious, uxorbitant, uxtentatious (this one comes from Patricia Pando, of Bainbridge, Ga.), and oneuxmanship (Thomas Fowler, of Lake Jackson, Texas). And Thomas Chesney, of Memphis, Tenn., takes top honors for his term for the husband in question: an uxorbitionist.

The other fugitive sought in October was a term for either “the barrier erected by headphones” or the “tiny country” a headphone wearer might be said to inhabit. Abby Huntington, of Bala Cynwyd, Pa., wrote, “Headphones are an accessory that renders the wearer inaccessible; hence headphones are an inaccessory.” Alex Scherr, of Athens, Ga., wrote, “As a proud iPod user, I’ve been harassed and ridiculed by friend and stranger alike for my blissful disconnection when wearing headphones. No matter: despite the social costs, I still find pleasure in my splendid ausolation.” Julie R. Voss, of Knoxville, Tenn., wrote, “As a college professor, I watch students disappear into this ‘tiny country’ on a daily basis.” Voss has named it Disctopia. But according to Elaine Bakal, of Brookline, Mass., “It’s called I-topia.”

A few readers argued that the name ought to be contingent. For instance, William R. Phillips, of Seattle, wrote, “If the earphones are used to seek refuge from one’s wife, they are called dear plugs.” Steve Hight, of Fruita, Colo., wrote, “The state to which one travels while listening depends upon one’s musical preferences. A person who prefers 1980s stadium rock escapes to Rusha, for example, whereas one who prefers peaceful music departs for Tranquilvania. Another fashionable destination remains the United Singdom.”

Dave Macy, of North Haven, Maine, takes top honors. Presumably a jazz fan, he hopes that headphone wearers enjoy their “nights (and days) in iTunesia.”

Now Betsy Childs, of Norcross, Ga., writes, “I need a word for the very vulnerable moment when, to pass through airport security, I must re­move my shoes. This is the great equalizer: in sock feet, no one is dignified.”

And Jeffrey Bledsoe, of Weatherford, Texas, writes: “I’d like a term for the exclamation we use to warn friends that the person they’re talking about is approaching them from behind. Usually, the exclamation is the approaching person’s name, as a ‘welcome’ to the conversation.”

Send words that meet Betsy Childs’s or Jeffrey Bledsoe’s needs to Word Fugitives, The Atlantic Monthly, P.O. Box 67375, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467, or visit the Word Fugitives page on our Web site, at www.theatlantic.com/fugitives. Submissions must be received by March 31. Use the same addresses to submit word fugitives that you’d like The Atlantic’s help in finding. Letters become the property of Word Fugitives and may be edited.

Readers whose queries are published and those whose words are singled out for top honors will each receive, with our thanks, a selection of recent autographed books by Atlantic authors. The next installment’s correspondents will be sent On The Wealth of Nations, by P. J. O’Rourke; Boomsday: A Novel, by Christopher Buckley; and my own Word Fugitives.

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Visit Barbara Wallraff’s blog, at barbarawallraff .theatlantic.com, 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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