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.

burn notice noun, an official notice circulated by one intelligence agency to other agencies, domestic or foreign, stating that a person or group is unreliable for any of various reasons: “A European intelligence agency had brought Ghorbanifar to the attention of the CIA in 1980, the year after the Shah’s fall, but the information he had supplied had proved to be so untrustworthy that the CIA had put out a burn notice on him in 1984” (New York Review of Books).

BACKGROUND: Our definition of this term is based on one found in the Dictionary of Military Terms (1987), written by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Military Terminology Group. The use of burn in burn notice derives from the sense of the verb burn meaning “to expose deliberately the true status of a person under cover.”

cascade verb, to circulate (e.g., information) widely and quickly through the ranks of an organization; distribute through channels: “The handouts for today’s meeting have been designed to make it easier for you to cascade the meeting’s key messages to your people” (photocopied cover document for a corporate seminar titled Management Focus '88). BACKGROUND: This new sense of cascade is an example of the corporate-speak of the late 1980s and, as one critic recently put it, “a preview of the lingua franca of the far future, when the State has indeed withered away.” This sense is related to a noun sense, which involves electricity and is used in digital circuit design: “an arrangement of devices, each of which feeds into the next one in succession.”

hubba noun, slang, crack cocaine: “Jennifer, an 18-year-old transvestite, is smoking hubbas, or rocks of crack” (Newsweek). BACKGROUND: The origin of this word, also used by some California grade-school children, along with crack dealer, to denote certain schoolyard games, is unknown. It is possible that hubba is derived from hubble-bubble, a water pipe. Or it may come from the sense of hub meaning “the enlarged base by which a needle can be attached to a syringe.” Once restricted in use to the West Coast, hubba seems to be on the verge of becoming bicoastal.

Krone verb, to teach subjects in an organizational setting to be more acutely aware of the ways in which they think through problems, in an effort to alleviate, if not stop, the decline in American competitiveness: “At Pacific Bell — until the state’s Public Utility Commission called a temporary halt to the practice—employees have been Kroned, indoctrinated in a mode of comprehending the world that owes its soul to the [late Russian] mystic [George Ivanovich] Gurdjieff. ... As one Krone memo puts it. . . the aim is to ‘generate in the minds of resources the ability to use their own progressive, systematic intelligence in a way that they can manage their process of continuously going beyond the limitations of their own and others’ typically reductive, analytic intelligence so that they can lead their own and others’ thinking toward sustained competitive effectiveness and meaningful development of people’” (Harvard Business Review). BACKGROUND: Officially called Leadership Development, the informal eponym Krone or Kroning comes from the name of Charles Krone, a management consultant in Carmel, California, who helped develop the principles for a series of ten two-day mental exercise sessions for 67,000 employees, costing Pacific Bell $40 million. Some other terms used in the Krone process, as they were defined in a glossary in Newsweek: end-state vision (“a goal”), internal resource (“an employee”), and metanoic (“acquisition of a clear vision”). Reactions to the program have been mixed. The Harvard Business Review notes that an Oakland, California, automobile dealer said he “got the best results by kicking butts and taking names.”The verb Krone is of interest because it is an example of a relatively small class of verbs derived from surnames.

rockplow verb, to convert (seasonally inundated prairie wetlands) to cultivable fields by dragging a plowlike implement over the pinnacle rock surface (high, spiky rock strata), breaking the rocks up and using the rubble to make the land smooth and level. Vegetable crops are then planted there during the winter dry season: “Proposals to rockplow wetland areas at. . . three . . . sites . . . have been made. . . . The crushed rock and other materials are used to fill the wetlands’ characteristic solution holes” (PR Newswire). BACKGROUND: An article in the January/February, 1988, EPA Journal explains that rockplowing results in “the destruction of valuable wildlife habitat and major disruption of the food chain . . . and water purification functions provided by the wetlands.” When one considers that about 55 percent of the wetlands of the lower fortyeight states which existed during colonial times have been destroyed by human hands, the word rockplow and its now more commonly occurring gerund form, rockplowing, which developed in the manner of snowplow, snowblow, sandblast, groundbreaking, and earthmoving, take on an additional, ominous, dimension. The EPA reports that about 300,000 acres of wetlands are disappearing every year, with agricultural conversion accounting for most of the loss.