Word Watch

Illustration by Michael C Witte

The Encarta World English Dictionary (1999).

bubba bomb a crudely constructed explosive device that is associated with southern white antigovernment males: "Around the South, law enforcement officials.... worried much less about international terrorism than about some white supremacist setting off a 'bubba bomb' for attention [during the New Year's Eve weekend of 1999-2000]"(The Atlanta Journal-Constitution).

BACKGROUND: This term gained wide currency in media reports about the bombing at the 1996 summer Olympics, in Atlanta. Its emergence continues the process of linguistic degeneration that has gradually occurred with respect to the meaning of bubba. Originally an affectionate form of address akin to brother,traceable to Gullah and used chiefly by African-Americans, it became a greeting reserved for young boys, and then came to mean an uneducated, highly conservative, often racist southern white male. A related compound, the bubba factor, refers to the often considerable influence of southern white conservative men on a political issue or an election.

dirtbagging camping in wilderness settings with very little gear. Also called dirtbag camping, coyote tourism, refugee randonée, rough adventure. "Taxonomically, dirtbags occupy every possible social and economic niche.... they all possess a level of outdoor skill that leaves them confident in the wilderness; otherwise, dirtbagging becomes a survival test"(Sports Afield).

BACKGROUND: (an "ameliorated," or elevated, sense of a hitherto pejorative word) pack only a small fraction of what a typical camper might take: a tarp, a minimal amount of food, and possibly a change of clothing. Left behind are tents, cots, chairs, cookstoves, pots and pans, coolers, and flashlights. The point is to tap one's personal resources. Dirtbagging is, of course, only one of a growing number of extreme sports. Another is skishing, an extreme form of surfcasting whose name is a contraction of ski fishing. In skishing the angler, wearing a wet suit and water shoes, fins, or golf shoes (for traction), swims or wades with a fishing pole to shoals or rocks far offshore and casts for big fish while standing, wading, or even swimming in the water around them. The term was coined by Paul Melnyk, a surfcasting enthusiast from Montauk, New York, who likens the activity to skiing because in such circumstances, he says, "if you hook a fish over thirty pounds, it will generally take you for a ride."

half-g car a motor vehicle lent to a drug dealer for a limited period of time in exchange for illegal drugs -- originally half a gram of cocaine. Also called half-g. "Born in the aftermath of the crack '90s, [the vehicles] have come to be known in Hartford and other areas of [Connecticut] as 'half-g' cars -- cars rented by the hour or day to drug dealers, typically in return for a half-gram of cocaine" (The Boston Globe).

BACKGROUND: This term came to light last year when police officers in various Connecticut cities began observing that a number of underage inner-city teens were, unaccountably, driving luxury cars that did not appear to have been stolen. In one case a Hartford teenager was shot after leading patrolmen on a chase in a half-g car belonging to a woman in the suburbs. Half-g cars offer young drug dealers not only increased mobility but also the opportunity to commit crimes in vehicles that cannot be traced to them. Owners may eventually report the cars stolen. (The incidence of "stolen" vehicles that were subsequently found with the keys in the ignition also helped to alert officers to the problem.)

sponsor girl a high school girl or young woman in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, who becomes a gangster's mistress in return for gifts: "The European, a Belgrade magazine banned by the [Milosevic] regime at the beginning of [1999], described a sponsor girl as 'a symbol of the absolute commercialization of sexuality, the newest manifestation of the subjugation of women. She is the target of malicious gossip and the dark subject of her fellow teen-agers' dreams, the reason for her parents' distress'" (The New York Times Magazine).

BACKGROUND: Unlike another group of women to whom war brought sexual exploitation -- the comfort women from nations such as China and Korea, who were forced into prostitution by invading Japanese troops during World War II -- sponsor girls appear to enter into their arrangements voluntarily. Mostly from middle-class families, they trade sex not for necessities but for hard-to-obtain luxuries such as designer clothes, cell phones, and expensive meals.

Anne H. Soukhanov is the U.S. general editor of The Encarta World English Dictionary 1999.

Illustrations by Michael C. Witte.

The Atlantic Monthly; May 2000; Word Watch - 00.05; Volume 285, No. 5; page 132.