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.

garmento noun, slang, a fabric buyer or jobber, or a clothing designer or manufacturer: “They’re all real-estate people and garmentos,’ said one long-term Southamptonite after surveying the [party] tent, with pointed reference to the Grand Garmento himself, Calvin Klein” (Newsday). BACKGROUND: Garmento is, according to an article about New York City’s garment district that appeared in the August, 1985, issue of Smithsonian, “a term of derision used by Seventh Avenue’s more up-to-date folk” for “a lineal descendant of the street peddler who wheels and deals and wheedles his way to a precarious livelihood.” Garmento is another example of the English language’s prolific use of the suffix -o, which, when attached to a noun or an adjective, creates a new word, often derogatory. Words so formed include bucko, cheapo, freako, pinko, sicko, weirdo, and wino. Other words formed in this way but lacking pejorative connotations and denotations are boyo, daddy-o, and kiddo.

greentapping noun, a method of automatically allocating money to any of a group of worthy causes during the course of commercial transactions, especially credit-card transactions: “Greentapping is the act of tapping the economic system for money to improve the world” (Card Courier: The Newsletter for Practical Idealists, Working Assets Funding Service).

Saturday school noun, a weekend disciplinary program for public-high-school students who misbehave frequently during regular school hours: “For the first infraction, a student can be suspended from school for one day or be assigned to four hours of Saturday school “ (Los Angeles Times). BACKGROUND: Saturday school, which has been in existence at least since the early 1980s, is intended as an alternative to suspension. One school official in Irvine, California, explains: “Kids who ditched school fell farther behind when we suspended them for being truant.” Students might be sent to Saturday school for any of various infractions, such as tardiness, truancy, smoking, failure to deliver classwork, or creating a disturbance. Saturday school can be useful in forcing students to make up missed work, according to proponents. In other cases students undergoing this weekend detention are required to clean school grounds.

token sucker noun, a subway-token thief who jams the recesses of a turnstile token slot with paper and then uses his mouth and teeth to retrieve tokens embedded there by passengers: “Known in the parlance as trolls and token suckers … [the thieves] have continued to victimize the [New York] Transit Authority, its 2,897 turnstiles and its riders” (The New York Times).

BACKGROUND: In a typical week (July 17-July 23, 1989) the New York Transit Authority responded to 1,779 calls to repair inoperative turnstiles, most of them disabled by token suckers. “Token sucking, ‘in which the guy literally retrieves the token using his mouth,’ appears to be the most common form of token theft, said a transit police spokesman,” according to the Times. In a procedure first identified in 1983, the token sucker jams the slot and then steps aside to await a passenger. When the turnstile jams and the passenger, unable to get the token in or out, seeks assistance from a clerk, the token sucker makes his move. Another retrieval technique — this one employed by “a more fastidious strain of token sucker”—is to use a plastic coffee stirrer tipped with bubble gum.

24/7 adjective and adverb, slang, available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Used of illicit drugs, specifically crack cocaine: “On every block there are four or five different ‘crews,’ or gangs, each touting its own brand of the drug, known to aficionados as ‘Scotty’ (as in ‘Beam me up’). Some blocks are ‘hotter’ than others, depending on the availability of the crack. On the hottest blocks Scotty is available ‘24/7'’” (The New York Times Magazine).

BACKGROUND: This street term—numerals functioning grammatically as two parts of speech—exemplifies a class of English words, usually informal or slang, that are wholly or partly numerals. Others are 10—4 (the term meaning “message received”), 4 × 4 or 4 by (the vehicle), 220 and 440 (the track-and-field events), 1040 (tax form), 20-20 (of vision), 86 (to eject a patron, as from a bar), 10 (a beautiful woman), 3D (the movie technology), and 212 (a New Yorker).