Word Watch

Here are a few of the words being tracked by the editors of The American Heritage Dictionary, published by Houghton Mifflin. A new word that exhibits sustained use may eventually make its way into the dictionary. The information below represents the first stage of research, not the final product.

amnesty consumernoun, a former illegal alien who has resided in the United States for five years or more, has been granted legal resident status under the provisions of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, and has accumulated enough capital by working to obtain the credit needed to buy durable goods and real estate: “One group of Hispanics that should be watched closely . . . are amnesty consumers" (American Demographics).

BACKGROUND: This term was coined last June by Carlos Arce, the president of NuStats, Inc., a market-research firm in Austin, Texas. In an interview Arce pointed out that 2.5 million people will have become amnesty consumers by May of 1988. Arce said that amnesty consumers‚ free at last to lay the paper trails that heretofore could have resulted in their detection and deportation, are now “ready to buy.”He characterized amnesty consumers as determined, industrious, conservative, and clever.

Cassingletrademark, a prerecorded magnetic cassette containing only one musical selection: “Prince’s ‘Sign of the Times’ and Bryan Adams’ ‘Heat of the Night’ are the beginnings of what retailers concede is another ripple in the new wave—the ‘cassette single’. . . . Industry pressure is pushing for the ‘cassette single’ moniker, but look for it to be shortened to ‘cassingle’ by consumers who don’t care that IRS Records has copyrighted that name” (Washington Post).

BACKGROUND: Cassingle, a blend of cassette and single, dates back to the early 1980s, when the cassette boom was still in its initial stages. The popularity of cassettes was increased by the proliferation of the Sony Walkman and similar compact cassette players. At the same time, sales of 45 rpm records and LPs began what has turned into a dramatic downward spiral. Today the 45 seems “destined to expire,” according to a June 11, 1987, article in the Poston Globe. Cassingle has been a proprietary mark of International Records Syndicate, Inc., since June of 1982, according to the U.S. Trademark Association.

ICabbreviation, innocent civilian: “It was standard Vietnam cover-up. Whenever a few Ics—innocent civilians—were killed by mistake—or in less blameless waiys—you came up with a hair-raising story of a firefight. No one questioned you” (Nelson DeMille, Word of Honor).

BACKGROUND: Nelson DeMiile glosses IC, a term whose precise origin is unknown, for the benefit of readers who never were in-country, and well he might: the Vietnam conflict spawned an entirely new jargon, as is reflected in the great number of books on that war which contain glossaries. Other terms in the jargon include BC, for “body count”; mighty mite, a commercial air blower used for injecting tear gas or poisonous gas into tunnels; crispie critter, a soldier who has been burned to death; beehive, an artillery round filled with hundreds of tiny metal darts; cut a chogie, to move out quickly from a position, an expression that goes back to the Korean War; and MOOSE, for “wove out of Saigon expeditiously.”

tract mansionnoun, a new luxury home measuring no less than 12,000 square feet and situated in an exclusive development: “The number of luxury-housing developments, subdivisions of 20 to 100 or more so-called tract mansions with prices approaching the $1 million mark, has sharply increased in the past several years” (Washington Post). Also called megahouse.

BACKGROUND: According to an article in the May 20, 1987, Wall Street Journal, construction of tract mansions began in the early 1980s. Tract mansions, built by developers before buyers have been found, reflect the taste and expectations of wealthy people who believe that colossal means arrival. A typical tract mansion is not contemporary in design; the style may vary from brick Colonial to Tudor, Mediterranean to Gothic. The mansions can have as many as five floors, connected by elevators and grandiose staircases. Other popular features are dining rooms equipped for banquet serving, living rooms the size of basketball courts, master bedrooms with his and her bathrooms and dressing rooms—perhaps each equipped with a fireplace and a wine rack—and poolside spas with wet bars and waterfalls.

universal reactornoun, a person who is allergic to a majority of the components of the environment — for example, air, water, food, housing, and drugs: “Known medically as a universal reactor, [she] is allergic to practically everything. Her doctor prescribed living on the beach as the best thing for her health” (Los Angeles Times).

BACKGROUND: According to Dr. William Rhea, the director of the Environmental Health Center, in Dallas, terms related to universal reactor include environmentally ill (often shortened to El), total-allergy syndrome, 20th-century disease, and chemmie (which denotes a person who is especially sensitive to manmade chemical products). The branch of the health-care profession concerned with such matters is called clinical ecology or environmental medicine. Some specialists in clinical ecology subscribe to the controversial theory that “man-made pollution is the cause of systemic allergic illness” (American Journal of Medicine).