Word Watch

Here are a few of the words being tracked by the editors of The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition (Houghton Mifflin). A new word that exhibits sustained use may eventually make its way into a future edition of the dictionary. The information below represents preliminary research.

black-water raftingnoun, the sport of exploring caves by riding inner tubes on the rivers flowing through them: “Welcome to the flip side of whitewater rafting. New Zealandstyle. Black-water rafting takes place underground, with wet suits and headlamps" (Washington Post).

BACKGROUND: Black-water rafters brave perils that include underground waterfalls and hypothermia (water temperatures in one prime spot are only around 60°F). They typically proceed by eeling—each grasping the legs of the person ahead—with their headlamps turned on. This keeps the group safely together while the rafters view the caves and their features—for example, the masses of glowworms within.

clutter buddynoun, one who supports another person in sorting and discarding accumulated personal possessions: “An opera singer returned to her Manhattan apartment, vowing to ‘de-clutter.’ She telephoned her clutter-support buddy a week later to say that, for the first time in some years, she had glimpsed the top of the coffee table. . . . The bookcase . . . came into view the next week. Again, she phoned her clutter buddy to report progress” (Chicago Tribune).

BACKGROUND: The anti-clutter movement of the nineties— thought by some to be a reaction to the acquisitiveness of the eighties—is manifest in clutter clinics, held at some universities; adult-education classes in clutter management (which have already produced some 200,000 clutter graduates)-, clutter hot lines; and de-clutter guidebooks. Those who have studied the phenomenon say that clutterers may be driven by attachment to the past, anxiety about the future, and, of course, obsession, and that chronic clutterers tend to be people on the go. Recovering clutterers advise others trying to kick the habit to start small: clean a small area, even if it is just twelve square inches; keep it clean; and only then go on to another spot. They also advocate giving oneself frequent—and disposable—rewards along the way.

Colombian syndromenoun, the joining of a country’s political leadership with underworld figures in a mutually advantageous relationship through which trade, law enforcement, real estate, the armed forces, and the banking system are jointly controlled: “’The so-called Colombian syndrome is developing [in Serbia],’said Dejan Popovic, a professor at Belgrade University law school” (Washington Post).

BACKGROUND: Colombian syndrome, named, of course, for the South American country, refers here to the reported link between the government of Serbia’s President, Slobodan Milosevic, and various criminals, many of whom played or are playing prominent roles in the ethnic wars in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. According to one Belgrade journalist, some 3,000 criminals from Belgrade are at the Bosnian front. They are said to be highly regarded by the Serbian government for their loyalty, courage, and imagination, and for maintaining a lucrative black market, in spite of UN-imposed sanctions, which is credited with preserving the social fabric and relative tranquility of Belgrade. The region in and around the former country of Yugoslavia has spawned a number of terms reflecting the peninsula’s longstanding internecine hostilities, from Balkanization to the notorious ethnic cleansing. Two recent coinages reflect the desperate shortages of just about everything in the battle zones. The Happy Bosnian, or beer bottle bomb, is, in essence, a surfaceto-air Molotov cocktail launched from an AK-47; its components include a Sarajevsko beer bottle, paint thinner, and panty hose. And the basement-to-pent-house missile is made of plastic thread spools stuffed with flammable material and detonated with firecrackers.

Wiggernoun, offensive slang, a white teenager who affects the mannerisms, speech, and style of big-city and especially innercity African-American youths. Also called poser, wannabe, wannabe black, yo-boy. “‘They’re black to be cool,’ [Traci Wilson] says. . . . She limps around the asphalt, parodying the street strut affected by a white kid she knows. ‘I say, “Get out of my face, you’re a wigger"" (Washington Post).

BACKGROUND: Wigger is, of course, a hybrid of “white” and the offensive slang word “nigger.” Today’s white teens are not the first to embrace aspects of African-American popular culture: consider the impact of the Jazz Age and Motown. The style and voice of the hiphoppers have been so powerful, and their reach—aided by MTV—so pervasive, that sev - eral words associated with them have already gained entry to the dictionary, including hood, homeboy, body popping, and yo. Theories to explain the motivations of wiggers abound. These youths are said, variously, to be stereotyping, even caricaturing, Afriean-Americans; engaging in a genuine search for multiculturalism and racial harmony; turning against the gentility of the suburbs in which they were raised; and simply copying their friends.