Word Watch

A selection of terms that have newly been coined, that have recently acquired new currency, or that have taken on new meanings, compiled by the executive editor of The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition.

LUGacronym, slang, lesbian “ntil graduation. Also called fouryear [esbian. “The ‘LUG’. . . phenomenon . . . has alienated many people—not only straight alumni but lesbians, who suggest that it trivializes their long and difficult journey" (Newsweek).

BACKGROUND: This citation represents but one view of the choices made by LUGs. Others in the gay community see the phenomenon more positively, as an instance of youthful experimentation with sexuality made possible by an atmosphere that tends to be tolerant and supportive of diversity. The acronym LUG is already exhibiting signs of becoming a noun and thereby acquiring staying power: it occasionally occurs in lowercase and has also appeared in the plural, especially in oral citations. Its easy and unambiguous pronunciation should also bolster its longevity.

smoodge or sploodgenoun, slang, the extrusion of smoke and other particles from an underground target, indicating to the pilot of an attacking aircraft that the target has sustained a hit and been destroyed from within: “On instructions from intelligence targeteers, the F-117 pilots carried GBU-lOs, which could be dropped from a higher altitude than GBU-27s but also lacked some of the penetrating punch. More than a dozen planes dropped two bombs each. When pilots later looked at their gun camera videotapes, they saw tremendous explosions but no ‘smoodge’ ” (Rick Atkinson, Crusade, 1993).

BACKGROUND: The etymology of pilots’ slang is notoriously difficult to trace, because much of it is orally based; that of smoodge and sploodge is no exception. Pronounced “smoodge” and “sploodge,” the words may contain elements taken from smoke and ooze. They can also be used as verbs, as in this example offered by a source who piloted an F-117 during the Gulf War: “Look at that stuff splooge outta there.”

toy foodnoun, a dish whose ingredients are premeasured, premixed, packaged in numbered containers, and sold as a kit: “The cooking-by-the-number chefs . . . stir just enough and add just enough of a personal touch at the last minute to make it seem . . . their own creation. . . . ‘It’s truly toy food,' says Martin Friedman, the editor of New Product News. ‘You get a little piece of this, a little of that, put it all together and make something, just like . .. an Erector Set’” (Washington Post).BACKGROUND:Toy food—a term Friedman chose for its echo of an old routine about airline food by the comedian Shelley Berman—is the successor to packaged mixes such as Hamburger Helper and Tuna Helper and, according to Friedman, the precursor of meal kits containing the ingredients for an entire dinner. Such a kit might, for example, contain everything needed to put together French onion soup, a caesar-salad dressing, the sauce for coq au vin, side dishes, and a dessert; the assembler need only buy a prepared salad and a chicken. Toy food is finding a market among those short on time or culinary experience but with relatively sophisticated tastes: typical assemblers are two-career couples, single parents, seniors tired of cooking, and youngsters assigned to prepare the evening meal.

wall in the headnoun idiom, the psychosocial barriers that continue to divide East Germans from West Germans: “Three years after German unification, every trace of the old wall has fallen. . . . But a ’Wall in the Head’ still runs through the town [of Kleinmachnow, where the Berlin Wall used to block every northbound street], separating Easterner from Westerner and neighbor from neighbor. Its persistence testifies to the difficulties of remaking any of Eastern Europe’s societies, even under ideal circumstances” (Dallas Morning News).

BACKGROUND: The expression wall in the head—in German, die Matter im Köpf—first surfaced in German newspapers in late 1990, about a year after the Berlin Wall came down. The disunity it describes has remained evident in opinion polls: for example, in September of 1992 only 22 percent of West Germans and 11 percent of Easterners said they felt “a common German identity” since the joining of the two nations. Among the most divisive issues: foreign deployment of the German armed forces, as in NATO (generally favored by Westerners and opposed by Easterners); the huge outlays of money. much of it borrowed, that the government is channeling to the East: high unemployment and crime rates in the East since reunification; and a law that allows Westerners to recover property seized by the Communists (more than a million such claims have been filed to date). The persistence of a wall in the head is perhaps not surprising: Germany has been united for little more than seventy-live of the past thousand years.