Saturday, April 13, 2002


THROUGH words and phrases language gives the observer cultural signposts about society. The kind of words coined and used are a sure indicator of the subtlest of social trends. Such words may not always find their way into dictionaries; keeping a watch on language users can indicate the trends. A little bit of lexpionage comes in handy here. But, what is lexpionage, please? A blend of lexicon and espionage. Lexicon refers to the vocabulary of a language. It comes from the Greek lexis, word, which takes origin from legein, speak. Espionage, the practice of spying or sleuthing comes from the French espion, spy. The two put together make lexpionage; the sleuthing of new words or of old words used in new ways.

Lists like the Lexis-Nexis database help to keep track of new words that have not yet reached the dictionary. The Lexis-Nexis database of major newspapers keeps track of the top 50 US papers and the top 20 from all over the world to keep track of new words. For example, ‘work-life balance’ coined in the early nineties, was noticed in 30 articles from 1992 to 1996. After 1996, the number of articles using it kept on increasing till in 2000 it was noticed in more than 200 articles. Lists like these are useful for marking cultural signposts and can also be used by dictionaries. A glance at words making the rounds shows the current career-oriented and success-driven trend of society.

March 16, 2002
And the romance goes on...
March 2, 2002
Less etymology, more romance
February 16, 2002
Random tales"
February 2, 2002
History and meaning
January 19, 2002
Psychiatry and Greek
January 5, 2002
Classic loans
December 22, 2001
Elected words
December 8, 2001
The Italian connection
November 24, 2001
Words in writing
November 10, 2001
October 27, 2001
The pickings of war
October 13, 2001
American English
September 29, 2001

Affluenza is a word that comes to mind at once. Made up of affluence and influenza, it refers to an extreme form of materialism in which consumers overwork and accumulate high levels of debt in order to purchase more goods. Witness the number of advertisements offering the world’s goods in installments, often giving situational insomnia! Situational insomnia, a temporary form of insomnia, occurs as a result of the short-term factors present in a person’s life. To deal with these short-term factors, people become clockless workers — they are willing to work at any time, day or night. They are zero drag employees who are highly motivated, with few personal responsibilities and so can work long hours, travel frequently, or be called in to work with little notice. In physics, drag refers to the resistance experienced by an object moving through a fluid medium, like air. Zero drag is an ideal state where the object experiences no resistance at all, much like an eager, no-spouse, no-kids, no-pets employee. Contemporary employers may not agree, but work-life balance is a pre-requisite to happiness. Work-life balance is the state of equilibrium in which the demands of a person’s career and personal life are equal.


The kosh of the Hindi shabdkosh or dictionary comes from the Sanskrit kosh. In Hindi, a kosh is a collection or treasure house. The Sanskrit kosh in addition to these meanings carries the sense of a container. This dates back to the Rigveda where a kosh referred to the container in which water was pulled up from the well. This led to today’s kosh as in shabdkosh, a repository of words.