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Word Watch -- December 1996

Word Watch

by Anne H. Soukhanov


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 The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition

Slugs

Israelize verb, to render (a nation and its people) security-conscious through repeated terrorist attacks: "Israeli experts have begun talking about the need for American society to become more 'Israelized,' and say U.S. resistance to tough [security] moves will eventually fade" (Wall Street Journal).

BACKGROUND: The citation above, from last August, marks the first appearance of this sense of this verb in a general media source; the reference was prompted by the World Trade Center, Oklahoma City, and Atlanta Centennial Park bombings. Other terms that are emerging from the lexicon of counterterrorism include taggant and idle package. Taggants are color-coded plastic microscopic identifiers that enable authorities to trace explosives back to the retailer; they have been used in Switzerland for more than a decade, and their use is being considered with increasing interest in the United States. An idle package is a parcel that has been left unattended -- but is no longer ignored by house or security staff members -- in a public place such as a hotel lobby or an airport.


raging silver wave noun, the rapidly rising proportion of senior citizens in the population of China, due in part to the state's changing views on family planning -- it once encouraged large families but has sponsored and enforced birth control in recent decades -- and in part to the increased longevity of the elderly: "An ever larger portion of the population [in China] is growing old. Newspaper commentators have called it the 'raging silver wave.' . . . There are 110 million people over 60 today; by 2025 the number of elderly will approach 400 million" (Washington Post).

BACKGROUND: This term recalls one discussed in Word Watch a decade ago: silver colonies, overseas retirement communities intended for Japanese senior citizens, whose numbers were then already rising. In China nursing homes are virtually nonexistent. Few younger Chinese today wish to spend their time and money caring for their elders, though; the result is the widespread abandonment of seniors, who are taken in at collection centers for the homeless. In Japan a related term, final care, has recently surfaced: "Before, when parents got sick, it was the job of the [eldest son's wife] to do the 'final care' for her in-laws" (Washington Post). Now that it is no longer common for Japanese parents and grown children to live together in one household, however, and many women hold jobs, some women are going against tradition by refusing to do final care for their in-laws and even for their own parents.


slug noun, slang, a commuter who, lacking membership in a car pool, regularly waits at designated pickup points, hoping to catch a ride in a car-pool vehicle with an unfilled seat: "In the unwritten [northern Virginia] book of car-pool etiquette, 'slugs' get their own chapter, and it isn't exactly a Bill of Rights" (Washington Post).

BACKGROUND: According to an Army major interviewed by the Post who regularly picks up slugs, "Slugs are not allowed to speak unless spoken to because they're outsiders. . . . They're there for a free ride. They can't make any demand to turn the heat up or music down. They're in no position to demand. "This urban-dialect appropriation of slug may hark back to the word's history as a printing term -- "a piece of type for temporary use" -- or it may come from other definitions, referring to a slow-moving gastropod and to a lazy, slothful person.


transgressive fiction noun, a literary genre that graphically explores such topics as incest and other aberrant sexual practices, mutilation, the sprouting of sexual organs in various places on the human body, urban violence and violence against women, drug use, and highly dysfunctional family relationships, and that is based on the premises that knowledge is to be found at the edge of experience and that the body is the site for gaining knowledge: "Subversive, avant-garde, bleak, pornographic -- and these are compliments. Such words are used to describe transgressive fiction, books pitched to young adults" (New York Times).

BACKGROUND: Transgressive fiction was first identified three years ago by the critic Michael Silverblatt, in an essay in the Los Angeles Times. It has its roots in the works of such authors as William Burroughs and the Marquis de Sade; its practitioners include Dennis Cooper (the author of Try, a novel whose protagonist is a sexually abused teenager with a heroin-addicted friend and an uncle who makes pornographic videos) and Gary Indiana (who wrote Gone Tomorrow, which centers on the pre-AIDS gay milieu). The genre has a number of distinctive visual signatures, including undersized formats, whole texts set in italics, and funky cover designs.


Copyright © 1996 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; December 1996; Word Watch; Volume 278, No. 6; page 128.

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