Word Watch

by Anne H. Soukhanov

American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition.

amenities creepan escalation in recent years in the number and cost of conveniences in the guest rooms of hotels: "'It's called amenities creep,' said James J. Eyster, H.V.S. Professor of Hotel Real Estate and Finance at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration.... From Tokyo to Tampa, guests ... are being showered with perks, some silly, some truly sublime" (New York Times).

BACKGROUND: Amenities creep is the latest phase of a marketing effort begun in the 1970s, when hotels started to stock guest rooms with items such as shower caps and soap. Soon they began adding built-in hair dryers, robes, and courtesy bars. Now, free of charge, come homemade cookies, in-room laptop computers, goldfish meant to serve as temporary pets, movies shown in theaters off the lobby, and children's "storylines" built into guest-room phones.

hospitalist a hospital-based physician who assumes the responsibilities traditionally held by an inpatient's own physician -- that is, seeing the patient daily, directing treatment, and approving his or her discharge: "[He] is one of a growing number of ... hospitalists, a sort of designated hitter who stands in for a patient's regular family physician or internist while the patient is in the hospital" (Wall Street Journal).

BACKGROUND: Medical groups and hospitals, especially those in managed-care plans, are increasingly hiring hospitalists to expedite patients' treatment and release, and to cut costs; some 1,200 to 1,500 hospitalists currently practice. Studies have shown that the use of hospital-based doctors does increase efficiency: decisions can be made without waiting for the arrival of an outside doctor, who, in turn, can see more patients in the office if freed from hospital rounds. Critics argue that the use of hospital-based doctors may compromise the continuity of a patient's care; proponents contend that the quality of care may in fact be improved, because hospitalists typically have greater experience with serious illness than many office-based doctors. Hospital-based doctors have long been common in Canada and Great Britain. However, the term hospitalist is quite recent: it was first used by Robert M. Wachter, a leading physician in the hospitalist movement, in a 1996 essay, co-authored by Lee Goldman, in The New England Journal of Medicine. Although most -ist words derive from words ending in -ism, hospitalist is an exception: hospitalism, first recorded in 1869, was used to denote the nonhygienic conditions in old, overcrowded hospitals.

pink trash the newly revived literary legacy of Jacqueline Susann's 1966 novel Valley of the Dolls: "Pink Trash: Return to Valley of the Dolls: Camp and Glam and Still Badly Dressed, Jacqueline Susann Is Back" (headline, New York Times).

BACKGROUND: This term derives from Susann's subject -- the seamy underside of show business -- and from reports that she typed her manuscripts on pink paper. Although Valley of the Dolls was out of print for 15 years (it was reissued last fall), it has maintained a devoted following, especially among gay men and lesbians (the novel offered one of the first sympathetic portrayals of homosexuals in popular culture). The book has inspired poems, drinking games on the Internet, a drag pageant, and theme parties, called V.O.D. parties, at which, for example, jellybeans shaped like Valium pills (Susann's "dolls") are served.


proggy a computer program that enables on-line criminals to steal passwords and credit-card numbers, so that they can use their victims' online identities to send offensive messages or make financial transactions: "Hackers post proggies around the Internet and trade them like baseball cards" (Wall Street Journal).

BACKGROUND: Attacks with proggies have been especially prevalent on America Online, in part because of that service's size. They typically involve phishing (ph for f is a common hacker substitution) for other users' personal information. A hacker might, for instance, transmit a message purportedly from the AOL billing department, requesting that a user "validate" his or her password and screen name so that the service can "fix" its records, and threatening to terminate the user's account if he or she does not comply. Carding, a form of phishing, employs various tricks to obtain a user's full name and credit-card information. Hackers who engage in such activities are called snerts, reportedly an acronym for "snot-nosed egotistical rude twits."

Illustration by Michael C. Witte

The Atlantic Monthly; April 1998; Word Watch; Volume 281, No. 4; page 120.