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October 04, 2019  |  Friday words #191  |  1539 hit(s)

Today's new-to-me word—and I must remind you that these Friday words are about words that are new to me—was one of those things where you hear (read) a word and then it's everywhere. The term is sapiosexual, which is defined as being sexually attracted to someone because of their mind. As an article in Seventeen magazine puts it, "smart is sexy." (One of my excuses for not previously knowing the word is that I don't spend time on dating sites, and thank goodness.)

This is definitely not a new-new term; apparently on dating apps you can specify it as one of your attributes. The Merriam-Webster folks don't list the term in their dictionary, but they have it on their watchlist.

The sapio part is a Latin term for "wisdom" or "taste." We see it words like savvy and savant (Spanish: saber, French: savoir-faire). It shows up in the binomial name for our species (Homo sapiens). It lurks in a word like insipid ("lacking taste; bland").

Someone named Torin/Darren WhoEver claims to have invented the word in 1998, according to a Livejournal post from 2002. That’s possible, but it's also not impossible that the term was invented more than once. We have a number of words that include -sexual (heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, and several more), so it's been established as a combining form for a while. Anyway, whoever invented the term, adding sapio- was definitely a clever twist.

The word sapiosexual has a straightforward definition, but using it to describe oneself can engender certain … opinions. The second definition in Urban Dictionary describes sapiosexual as "Something you put on your dating profile if you want to be pretentious." And as the Twitter user The Maine Millennial noted wryly …

Every guy's a sapiosexual until he meets a woman who is smarter than he is

So, profile-writer beware. Even if it's true that you love others for their minds, it might be wise not to actually say that.

A quick word history today, inspired by something I found while we were culling books:

Title page of a Rand McNally atlas from 1937

This was an atlas given to my father when he was a boy. It turns out that various parts of the world were organized quite differently in 1937.

It made me wonder why we use the word atlas for a book of maps. Well, it's an eponym: it refers to Atlas, the Titan in Greek mythology who was condemned to hold up the sky (the "celestial sphere").

How it got to be the term for a book of maps: the geographer Mercator wrote a book that was published in 1595 with the title "Atlas or Cosmographic Meditations on The Fabric of the World and The Figure of the Fabrick’d." (In Latin, of course.) This book discussed the history of the world, but Mercator, being a cartographer, also included many maps. The frontispiece has a color plate showing Atlas contemplating the world.

Although Mercator's book was not the first collection of maps, and although he didn't intend it to be just a collection of maps, his title became a generic term for such a collection. Moral: be careful with your book titles, kids, lest they become generic terms.

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