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Word Watch

Illustration by Michael C Witte

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 U.S. general editor of The Encarta World English Dictionary (1999).

by Anne H. Soukhanov

parasite single noun, a young Japanese woman, typically in her twenties, who lives with her parents rent-free so as to have her entire salary for spending money: "Happily unmarried, living with her parents while working as a bank teller, she is what people here call a 'parasite single'" (The Washington Post).

BACKGROUND: Parasite single was coined by Masahiro Yamada, a sociologist at Tokyo Gakugei University, in 1997. It is reminiscent of the term boomerang baby, discussed in this space in January of 1989, and used to describe an adult in the United States who returns to his or her parents' home to live. Unlike boomerang babies, most parasite singles have always lived with their parents, even during college, because Japanese university housing is scarce. Parasite singles may spend their money on expensive jewelry and cars. They dine out regularly in groups and often travel abroad together, taking advantage of special group rates for women. According to many observers, parasite singles are not opposed to getting married; they simply want to enjoy their freedom as long as possible.

skatertizer noun, an in-line skater hired to wear a lightweight flat-screen television monitor around his or her neck, in order to display videotaped or live ads: "The in-line skaters ... earn $30 to $40 an hour, depending on the day of the week and the time of day the individual 'skatertizer' works" (The Washington Post).

BACKGROUND: This word was coined in 1994 by Laurance Rassin, the founder and creative director of a Bethesda, Maryland, advertising firm; initially it referred to skaters wearing T-shirts printed with ads. TV-bearing skatertizers made their debut last year. Skatertizers may be hired to roam the vicinity of a theater, a store, or a trade show. Companies that have advertised by means of skatertizers include America Online, Disney, and Oldsmobile.

viral marketing noun, a promotional strategy that relies on having customers spread the word about a product, especially in conversation or by e-mail. Also called contagion marketing, inertia marketing, multi-connected marketing, propagation marketing, stealth marketing. "One of the cheapest and most effective Internet marketing schemes ever, viral marketing allows even the motliest start-ups to gain a worldwide audience" (Newsweek).

BACKGROUND: Viral marketing goes back at least to a 1989 article in the trade journal PC User. However, it began to gain currency only after appearing three years ago in an article in the business magazine Fast Company. The introduction of the term to a general business readership just when e-commerce was on the verge of a huge expansion clearly helped to stimulate its widespread use. Viral marketing can consist of short advertising messages automatically appended to users' e-mails by their servers; recipients of such messages may regard them as product endorsements. Viral marketers may pay consumers nominal commissions for directing their friends to particular Web sites. Viral marketing can also boost a product indirectly, by spreading information harmful to the competition, a practice described last spring in an article in Regardie's Power:" In [some] instances [crisis-management expert Eric] Dezenhall claims clients have been victims of attackers who are actually fronts for business competitors. 'The Nixon White House referred to it as [expletive deleted],' he says, 'but a nicer term is viral marketing. You simply introduce a terrifying allegation ... and let it migrate up the mainstream media.'"

weather tourist noun, an aficionado of violent storms who plans vacations to areas often afflicted by them, in the hope of experiencing a storm firsthand:"[He] is a weather tourist, an odd but growing breed that plans its holidays around spectacularly awful weather" (The New York Times Magazine).

BACKGROUND: Tornado chasing, one form of weather tourism, has become particularly popular of late, no doubt owing in part to the 1996 film Twister. One tornado-chasing tour company, for example, offers two-week, $2,000 packages. The less adventurous can indulge in armchair storm watching, facilitated at one West Coast inn by the placement of microphones on a nearby stormy beach: speakers enable patrons to hear the crash of thirty-foot waves and the howl of 80 mph winds from the safety of the inn's dining room. Perhaps not surprisingly, weather tourists tend to be city dwellers.


Anne H. Soukhanov is the U.S. general editor of The Encarta World English Dictionary (1999).

Illustration by Michael C. Witte.

Copyright © 2000 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; August 2000; Word Watch - 00.08; Volume 286, No. 2; page 100.