Tagged: english

Wet Sell

Wet sell (1959):  “a business deal facilitated by alcohol.”

As evidenced by its meandering, seemingly psychedelic-influenced introduction, Polyglot’s Lexicon appears to have been intended to serve as an interpretion of the country’s collective psyche.  And it does.  1959 also brought us drinksmanship – “the use of alcoholic drinks to facilitate business deals,” and business drink, which means “an alcoholic drink to facilitate a business deal.”  That same year, we can also see suburbanization and car culture creeping in (parkette, shopping mall, center city, skip-stop parking), plus no shortage of references to boozing it up while the cold war raged (in addition to the words above, beer-b-q, bar car, business drunk).

The words and their definitions are the Lexicon’s richest indicator of how a culture evolves through its language.  However, for those who are more analytically minded, author Kenneth Versand also helpfully categorizes words into a few broad categories:  “popular”, “science”, “war” and “politics”.  In 1959, the year that the three-martini lunch was immortalized in triplicate, we find the yearly lexicon dominated by the category “popular”.  Out of 136 total words, 46 percent were categorized as such, including all of the words above.   36 percent were classified as “science” words, e.g. aerospace and jetwalk.  Another 4 percent were words related to “war,” and 14 percent to “politics.”  This would seem to indicate that we were much more fun-loving (or quite possibly just drunk) than during the WWII years – in 1945 over half of the words added to the lexicon were dedicated to either war or politics.

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Syntopicon, verbotropic

Syntopicon: “a collection of topics” (1950).

What a great word.  Although I can see why it never caught on, it has a ring to it (and was, of course, the inspiration for this blog’s title).  In 1952, Mortimer J. Alder compiled “The Syntopicon” – a 2-volume, cross-referenced collection of the great ideas in the western canon.  It was apparently a massive undertaking, and the titular term was coined especially for the occasion.

To be verbotropic is to be responsive to words (1961).  Wow.  How often do you do a Google search and nothing (OK, one thing) comes up?  I’m drawn to this word for its similarity to “phototropic” (which describes tendency of plants to move toward the sun, and somehow redefines what it means to be a bookish sort).