Return to the Table of Contents.
A P R I L 1 9 9 7
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 ofThe American Heritage Dictionary of the English
Language, Third Edition.
by Anne H. Soukhanov
crind noun, an automatic credit-card reader, as at a gasoline
pump or other point of purchase: "I drive out of my way to find a station with
crinds.... I can now rent a car, buy an airline ticket, even check in
and out of a hotel with no human contact" (Damon Darlin, Forbes).
BACKGROUND: Also styled CRIND, this term (pronounced to rhyme with
"pinned") began as an acronym for "card reader in dispenser," a device that was
tested as early as 1989 by at least one nationwide gasoline distributor. The
popularity of crinds attests to the growing impersonality of today's
fast-paced society, in which such things as convenience, speed, and
predictability in transactions have become top priorities.
guerrilla librarianship noun, the use of surreptitious
librarians determined to resist the large-scale "deaccessioning" of rarely used
books: "A branch librarian ... sometimes goes around with a due-date stamp,
furtively stamping into currency books that she feels are imperiled.... [Employees of the San Francisco Public Library] call it 'guerrilla
librarianship'" (The New Yorker).
BACKGROUND: Guerrilla librarianship can also involve such tactics as
transferring endangered books from one department to another and hiding books
in lockers, to be reintroduced to the collection "when the danger has passed,"
as The New Yorker puts it. The term has so far generally been restricted
to the controversy over the purge, or weeding, of deselected
books in the new San Francisco Public Library (thousands of tomes have been
relegated to landfills; thousands of others, however, are said to have been
quietly saved through the methods described above). It may, however, gain wider
currency if new libraries elsewhere are designed, as the San Francisco facility
was, with generous space for computer terminals, meeting rooms, and art, but
inadequate space for books.
medical mall noun, a complex of facilities that offers diagnostic
services, primary patient care, outpatient surgery, and psychotherapy together
under one roof, along with such amenities as banks, restaurants, and dry
cleaners:"Can chest X-rays and cholesterol tests be sold like polo shirts and
lingerie?The developers of medical malls think.... they can attract
patients and managed-care contracts with one-stop shopping for medical
services" (Wall Street Journal).
BACKGROUND: Medical malls are a giant leap beyond the urgicenter
(or doc-in-a-box or McDoctor) -- a for-profit medical
clinic in a
business district or mall (discussed in this space in 1987). Like
urgicenters, medical malls may proliferate:the concept appears to
be catching on even with traditional hospitals, some of which have opened vast
medical malls nearby. By the end of 1995 medical malls were
operating in several states, including California, Missouri, Maryland, and
spange verb, slang, to panhandle for spare change: "'I
spange much because I really don't like doing it. I eat out of trash
cans a lot. Pizza. Hamburgers. Fries. Soda.... It's survival of the fittest.
Those that aren't fit have to go home'" (young male living on the streets,
quoted in The New York Times Magazine).
BACKGROUND: Spange is a slurred shorthand form -- an oral
acronym, as it
were -- of the question "Spare any change?" Like the expression
used for a young drifter who rides the rails or hitchhikes from city to city,
it comes from the argot of today's street punks. Some of those,
ironically, are trustafarians -- rich or upper-middle-class
on the streets by choice. The term trustafarian, a blend of trust
fund and Rastafarian, dates back to at least 1992 in British sources
and reflects the dreadlocks hairstyles and neo-hippie, unkempt clothing
affected by some of these youths.
sylvanshine noun, a bright white light that seems to emanate from
certain kinds of dew-covered trees when a beam of light, as from a vehicle's
headlights, strikes them:"Ever driven through a wooded area on a summer night
and thought you saw snow-covered trees in the moonlight? You can 'fess up;
you're not crazy. You simply saw sylvanshine" (Pittsburgh
BACKGROUND: This phenomenon was named and explained by the Pennsylvania State
University meteorologist Alistair B. Fraser in 1994, a decade after he first
noticed it. Sylvanshine is a form of retroreflection --
effect that makes highway markers, bicycle reflectors, and cats' eyes seem to
shine in the dark. Blue spruce, arborvitae, rhododendron, hemlock, and juniper
are all conducive to sylvanshine. Their leaves or needles are coated
with wax, on which dewdrops bead; the drops become, in effect, lenses that
concentrate and channel much of the light back toward its source rather than
scattering it in other directions.
Illustration by J. C. Michael C. Witte
Copyright © 1997 by The Atlantic Monthly
Company. All rights
The Atlantic Monthly; April 1997; Word Watch; Volume 279, No. 4;