Word Watch

by Anne H. Soukhanov

Stealth Towers

American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition.

Beltropolis the 257 square miles within the Capital Beltway, including the District of Columbia and parts of Maryland and northern Virginia: "If it were a city, the area inside the Beltway would rank among the nation's top five most populous. With a population of 1.6 million, the area inside the Beltway -- call it 'Beltropolis' -- contains more people than the city of Philadelphia" (Washington Post).

BACKGROUND: Beltropolis is an offshoot of the common expression "inside the Beltway," whence came Beltway insider -- someone with access to government information and power. According to demographers, Beltropolans have a median annual household income far greater than the U.S. median, and tend to have upscale lifestyle preferences. White-collar workers outnumber blue-collar ones disproportionally, by more than five to one, and the Beltropolis contains a huge wonking class -- those whose interests, if not jobs, are focused on issues of federal policy. (A segment of this wonking class consists of Beltway bandits, consultants and scholars who work on a fee basis for the government.) Beltropolis joins a growing list of descriptive place names not found as such on most maps: for example, Pacific Rim, and Sun Belt.

K&R industry the growing number of personal-security companies that offer so-called kidnap-and-ransom insurance -- costly policies that, in the event of a kidnapping, provide ransom money and the services of a professional negotiator -- to high-risk clients, such as foreign-based CEOs and bankers, famous people, and the super-rich: "International kidnapping has become an emblem for the 90s.... [an American man's] kidnapping [in Colombia] ... sheds light on one of the world's murkiest legitimate businesses -- the ... K&R industry (Vanity Fair).

BACKGROUND: Most K&R professionals were once spies, Scotland Yard detectives, or Special Forces personnel. They are typically pitted against professional kidnapping squads made up of former leftist revolutionaries. Given this combination, it is hardly surprising that the lingo of K&R is a blend of military jargon, street slang, and bureaucratese: K&R operatives on assignment are on deployment. On occasion they deal with fast-food kidnappings -- ones involving relatively low ransoms, of perhaps $30,000 to $60,000, and rapid negotiations. Although K&R companies offer little in the way of preventive services, some clients, in addition to paying annual K&R premiums ranging from $10,000 to upwards of $150,000, buy vaccinations directly from potential kidnappers: in Bogotá, for example, a $60,000 vaccination is said to protect against a $500,000 kidnapping. (For their part, kidnappers follow the Preserve the Porcelain Rule, the aim being to keep the victim alive.)

lexia a freestanding block of fiction linked electronically to one or more others in a digital environment, so that a reader can explore and interact with a larger piece of fiction, choosing from many different story angles and possible outcomes: "Some writers are experimenting with hypertext fiction -- Web-based stories and novels that allow the reader to navigate through the text in a non-linear fashion by clicking from one lexia to the next" (The Nation).

BACKGROUND: This term is said to have been coined in connection with conventional, linear narratives by the French literary theorist Roland Barthes (who used it to mean simply blocks of text), and adapted to the world of hypertext fiction by the author George Landow. Although the term is well known among devotees of hypertext fiction, it has to date appeared only infrequently in the general press; however, citations seem to be on the rise.

stealth tower a camouflaged wireless-telephone-communications pole: "An unlikely symbol of a wireless communications revolution sweeping the United States.... is one of hundreds of 'stealth towers'" (New York Times).

BACKGROUND: Phone companies trying to soften the visual impact of an explosive increase in antenna sites have begun to adopt stealth policies, in effect disguising antennas in existing or newly created structures or in artificial replicas of local flora. One stealth tower, in Franklin Lakes, N.J., consists of a 100-foot-tall synthetic pine tree, with cables running through its bark and small antennas clustered discreetly in its realistic-looking green boughs. Others include fake windmills and, in Derby, Conn., a mock bell tower on a hilltop church. Under consideration for the Phoenix, Arizona, area: a three-story-tall synthetic saguaro cactus.

Illustration by Michael C. Witte

The Atlantic Monthly; August 1998; Word Watch; Volume 282, No. 2; page 112.