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AWADmail Issue 288January 6, 2008
A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Other Interesting Tidbits about Words and Languages
From: Mike Pope (mike.pope microsoft.com)
Surely the best-known instance of the word "wiki" these days is in the name Wikipedia, the collaboratively written online encyclopedia. The concept of a wiki -- in which anyone can make changes to a page -- was initially viewed with great skepticism by (as we call them) content providers, who foresaw only anarchy when uncontrolled access was allowed to content. But the Wikipedia folks have shown that opening up collaboration to the whole world (pretty much literally) can work pretty well, tapping the collected knowledge of everyone who wants to edit. The sheer quantity of information in Wikipedia -- some ok, some good, and some excellent -- has outstripped in just a few years the size of many printed encyclopedias. Wikis are a promising model for aggregating knowledge, and we will see many more of them in the future.
Apropos of the word for January 1st, 2008 ("adultescent"), you suggested that tween is another example of the contemporary marketers' penchant for inventive demographic slicery. No doubt a great many readers will remember that the word tween occurs in the very first chapter of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring, in which situation it is a triple blend (of teen, twenties, and between) referring to "the irresponsible twenties between childhood and coming-of-age at thirty-three" -- a curious anticipation of the demographic concept behind "adultescent". Remembering that our "adult" comes from the past participle of the Latin verb "adolescere", I find an unfelicitous redundancy in "adultescent" (about which I'm sure the marketers care not a fig).
From: Denis Smith (dsmith6 columbus.rr.com)
Thanks so much for Wordsmith. When I was director of language arts for an Ohio school district some years back, I signed up all of the department chairs with a subscription so that we would always have some common frames of reference in our work of encouraging young people to love the study of language.
Today's word, adultescent, reminds me of an earlier attempt for a similar construction. In the early 1960s, Dr. Donald Eichhorn, then superintendent of schools in Upper St. Clair, Pennsylvania, coined the word transescent to describe youth between the ages of 10 and 14. This coinage was an attempt to define that phase in young people's lives when they were not quite adolescents yet were demonstrably not young children either. In spite of many attempts by some educational writers, the word never caught on. The descriptor that did catch on and is still used to describe that phase of human development is early adolescent.
Years later, when I was an editor of several educational publications, I would receive manuscripts from some authors who repeatedly used the word transescent. (I did not care for the word because it was not accepted by the larger public and no one outside a small circle knew what the term meant or implied.)
The best example of the word not being understood was when a crusty weekly newspaper editor took my marked-up copy for typesetting (long before desktop publishing) and repeatedly substituted the word transient for transescent. When I told this story about a year later to several university people who used the word, its usage among the educational writers group slowly declined. Right or wrong, my point was that if an educated and erudite editor, a writer with a graduate education and thirty years of experience working with words, did not recognize the word, then we shouldn't use it in our educational publications. As St. Francis would say, seek first to understand so you may be understood.
From: Zachary Martin (zacmart gmail.com)
I would have thought this was a portmanteau of commentator and secretariat (rather than proletariat) because of the connotation of power associated with it.
From: Robin HL (robinhl ctc.net)
Surely "commissariat", not "proletariat", both for the sound and for the meaning.
From: Sam Samuels (ssamuels email.smith.edu)
I have heard this word before, and have even heard another theory about its provenance that is totally unsupported but fun and worth sharing. My daughter tells me it is an acronym that stands for "council housed and violent".
From: Jim Franklin (jim.franklin churchwoodfinancial.co.uk)
We have a colloquial meaning in the UK for chav that stems from Council House And Versace. A council house is state provided housing and this indicates that the person has no money but tries to look the part by wearing designer goods.
From: Antonio Lopez (alopezs meditex.es)
Regarding the word chav, I think that the Romany clue is perhaps the right one: in Spanish we have chaval, a youngster.
From: Saurabh Kanwar (saurabhk in.startv.com)
Chaava is a word that's part of popular street lingo here in Mumbai, and it's commonly used by Marathi and Gujarati speakers. In complimentary usage, a chaava is a sharp-dressing boy, or the good-looking neighbourhood stud. In deprecatory usage, the implication is that the chaava spends all his effort on looking sharp, but is ignorant of other things. The literal Marathi meaning of chaava is a lion cub.
This sentence would be seven words long if it were six words shorter.