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.

domonoun, a professional person, typically aged 30—39, who markedly retrenches in his or her career in order to perform more-meaningful work and experience a higher quality of life: “Several years ago the media started running stories about ‘Super Women’ who were opting to ‘drop out’. . . . What makes the 'domo’ syndrome different is that now men have joined the exodus . . .”(Springfield [ Mass. ] Advocate). BACKGROUND: If dink, nimby, and zoomer—all previously defined in this column—were symptomatic of the ethos of the eighties, the acronym domo. from “downwardly mobile professional,” may be characteristic of the nineties. The domo trend, presaged perhaps by the cocooning observed in the mid-1980s, is being seen among thirtysomething careerists with well-paid spouses and considerable savings.

gastropornnoun, precious language and luscious photographs used to depict recipes or meals, as in gourmet cookbooks or on the menus of expensive restaurants: “This [book] may be the greatest example to date of what some wags call ‘gastroporn’" (Newsweek). BACKGROUND: We have five years’ worth of citations for gastroporn, found in sources such as the Manchester Guardian Weekly, Food & Wine, and The New Republic. In a 1990 sto ry in the London Sunday Times, Dominic Lawson holds up as an example of gastroporn the following passage from BrillatSavarin’s 1823 classic La Physiologie de Goût: “Following an admirable first course there appeared, among other dishes, a huge Berbezieux cockerel, truffled fit to burst, and a Gibraltar rock of Strasbourg foie gras. The sight produced a marked, but almost indescribable effect on the company. . . and when the loaded plates had been handed round I saw successively imprinted on every face the glow of desire, the ecstasy of enjoyment, and the perfect calm of utter bliss.”

hedonia hypothesisnoun, a hypothesis in neuropsychology holding that stress and other “negative hedonic states" tend to increase a subject’s eyeblink frequency, and that “positive hedonic states,” such as contentment and pleasure, tend to decrease eyeblink frequency. Also called hedonia-blink hypothesis. “In the blink of an eyelash, [Joseph J. ] Tecce puts to work his hedonia hypothesis. ... [He] has trained his . . . eyes on two statesmen caught in the crucible of world events, President Bush and . . . Saddam Hussein, who are locked in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation in the Persian Gulf. If Tecce’s data are accurate, Saddam will blink first in the war of nerves" (The Boston Herald). BACKGROUND: Hedonia hypothesis, related to hedonics, the branch of psychology that deals with pleasant and unpleasant conscious states and their relation to organic life (both have the Greek ancestor hedone, “pleasure”), was coined in 1978 by Tecce, a professor of neuropsychology at Boston College. Our definition of the term is based on material in Tecce’s article “Contingent Negative Variation (CNV) and Eyeblinks,”which appeared in 1989 in Clinical Electroencephalography. From videotapes of an interview with Saddam Hussein, Tecce has determined that Hussein registered 56 blinks per minute (BPM) when responding to a question about whether he would be willing to debate George Bush and Margaret Thatcher; while listening to the translation of his answer he registered a full 120 BPM. Bush’s BPMs are considerably lower (in the 38-to-58 range during his August 8, 1990, news conference, which focused on Persian Gulf questions).

quuxnoun, slang, a temporary name that, like the more commonly used “foo" and “bar” (all three are called “meta-words”), is used by computer programmers to refer to sections of code when discussing programs: “People will say, ’quux can call foo after quux has notified bar of its intentions’" (letter from Gary Sabot, of Thinking Machines Corporation). Quux is also the nickname for Guy L. Steele Jr., who coined the term. BACKGROUND: Every once in a while we reprise a word because of unusual reader interest. And in this instance, as Sabot has pointed out to us, our original definition was incomplete. We first encountered quux in an untitled, unpublished list of computer jargon, compiled in 1982; it was subsequently included in The Hacker’s Dictionary (1983). Quux is an example of a relatively rare phenomenon in English: a word containing a double u. Our original piece listed nine other such words: vacuum, residuum, continuum, menstruum, individuum, duumvirate, lituus, equus, and muumuu. To these can be added others found in a recent American Speech note and also contributed by Atlantic readers. They include carduus (a thistle), commiscuum (a subdivision of organisms), equuleus (a young horse), mutuum (a type of loan in Roman and civil law), obliquus (an oblique muscle), suum (a term imitative of the sound of the wind, used by Shakespeare), triduum (a term of three days), and zuurveldt (an African veld that is poor for grazing).