Word Watch

anxious class, U.S. workers at all levels of competence and rank who are overworked and affected by the prospect of joblessness, whose wages have failed to increase or even to keep up with inflation, and who may not be valued by their employers over the long term: "A class consciousness may be emerging from . . . shared anxiety--an awareness among millions of Americans that they occupy the same unsteady boat, even if they are doing well in high-paying jobs. Labor Secretary Robert B. Reich . . . describes `the anxious class' as `consisting of millions of Americans who no longer can count on having their jobs next year, or next month, and whose wages have stagnated or lost ground to inflation'" (New York Times).

Background: Today's managers, support staff, technicians, and line workers all experience much the same job-related angst. But unlike, for example, Marx's working class, the anxious class has no identifiable rhetoric or vocabulary, and no designated enemy. "Instead," as the article cited above points out, "business is seen as also a victim, caught in a global competition that forces cost-cutting and layoffs." Anxious class is one more item in the growing lexicon of an uncertain business climate; another example, recently explored in this space, is constant whitewater, which refers to the relentless turmoil faced by corporate managers.

Astroturf, used figuratively to denote advocacy advertising, chiefly on local television, that has been created to resemble a grassroots movement and is intended to influence lawmakers indirectly by changing public opinion: "At a time when there is growing distrust of anything emanating from official Washington, Astroturf campaigns have the advantage of offering at least a semblance of populism" (New York Times).

Background: Such "synthetic" grassroots campaigns, engineered by special-interest groups, are modeled on last year's "Harry and Louise" television-ad series, sponsored by the insurance industry, in which a worried couple pored over the Clinton health-care initiative; the series is widely credited with helping to derail public support for the plan. Astroturf ads usually depict just-folks characters. For example, in one, sponsored by a tobacco company and an insurance company with a clear stake in tort-law reform, an affable senior citizen proclaimed, "Fewer people nowadays are willing to accept responsibility for their own doin's. . . . I tell you, the system is out of whack." Experts are unsure of the efficacy of Astroturf campaigns, but they caution that many more are sure to come.

fat skis, slang, double-wide downhill snow skis. Also called fat boards; fatties; training wheels. "Thanks to the invention of fat skis, thousands of ordinary skiers are discovering the joy of skiing on powder snow. . . . Because they require far less effort to maneuver in powder and other challenging snow conditions, fat skis can add years to a skier's career" (Wall Street Journal).

Background: Fat skis were developed by the Austrian ski designer Rupert Huber, who cut a snowboard down the middle and mounted downhill bindings on each half. Huber had noticed that snowboarders are able to float on powder, rather than "submarining" beneath the surface like inexperienced skiers on conventional skis. Fat skis, now in a more sophisticated design, are being used by some ski schools to train beginners; however, they are scorned by most longtime powder skiers, who consider it cheating to use them.

high-rise cat syndrome, the complex of injuries, ranging from pulmonary contusions to limb and dental fractures, sustained by a cat that has fallen from a substantial height: "Indeed, for pets as for humans, summer in the city can be brutal. For this is the season of high-rise cat syndrome, when pets plunge inexplicably from 20th-story windows" (New York Times).

Background: More generally called high-rise syndrome, since it also has involved dogs, ferrets, a turtle, and even an iguana, this condition goes back in the veterinary-medicine literature to at least 1976, when it was called high-rise trauma syndrome. According to one veterinarian who has treated hundreds of survivors, the syndrome occurs chiefly in New York, where the numerous, often un-air-conditioned high-rise buildings frequently lack window screens, because the population of flying insects is paltry. Surprisingly, the farther the fall after a certain point, the lower the mortality rate and the fewer the serious injuries: cats reach their maximum velocity after falling about five stories, and begin thereafter to relax into a horizontal position that slows their fall and distributes the impact. Last summer one cat survived after falling 46 stories, which is believed to be a record.