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January 12, 2018  |  Friday words #103, 2018-01-12  |  3404 hit(s)

If these first two weeks are any indication, 2018 is shaping up as a lexicographically interesting year, right?

Ok, two new-to-me words today from the world of relationships. Let's start with dating. You won't have trouble finding lists of "the lingo of [online] dating," as one page puts it. In these lists you'll find words like ghosting (previously noted here), breadcrumbing, and cuffing season.

One term that's specific to online dating is catfishing, which means to have a false identity to entice someone for various reasons, generally unethical ones. The word catfish spawned one of the terms I'm interested in today: kittenfishing, which some people liken to "catfishing lite." (cat/kitten, probably you noticed this.) In kittenfishing, you don't present a made-up persona. But you do enhance your profile—misrepresenting yourself descriptively or visually, which some people refer to as "lying"—in order to lure someone into dating you. Note the distinction between the words in terms of motive: catfishing often has a quasi-criminal intent; kittenfishing just aims at getting a date. According to an article on the hingeirl.com site, people who work at that site invented the name: "… a practice so common in the world of modern dating that we at Hinge had to give it a name."

Ah, the world of online dating, eh? One article says "38 percent of men and 24 percent of women say they’ve been kittenfished." I should note that I learned the word kittenfishing from Friend Julie, who wrote a whole book about online dating.

Update It occurs to me that a famous historical example of kittenfishing was the betrothal of Henry VIII to Anne of Cleves. Henry's story, anyway, was that he had been misled about her beauty … i.e., he'd been kittenfished. He married her, but reluctantly.

I learned a second relationship term just yesterday: micro-cheating. In micro-cheating, you don't cheat on your partner in the generally understood way. But you do have an emotional attachment to someone else and engage in actions that further your external relationship—actions that you hide from your partner, like having a social media relationship with someone on the QT. (Someone suggested that this could also be called "emotional cheating" or an "emotional affair.")

What struck me about the term was the use of the micro- prefix. We've seen this elsewhere recently, as in microaggression. This made me wonder whether the micro- prefix is seeing greater velocity these days; maybe?

As an aside, I'll note that the words kittenfishing and micro-cheating are relatively new (within the last year or so). I think we can agree, tho, that the concepts they represent are probably about as old as dating itself.

Word origins! I was recently reading the book The Mark Inside, about a man who was conned in the early 20th century and who sets about getting revenge. In the introduction, Amy Reading, the author, presented a surprisingly specific origin for the term confidence man, whence con man, whence to con [someone]. I'll let her tell you the story:
Confidence artistry began one day in May 1849 when a well-dressed young man named Samuel Williams—or was it Samuel Thomas? or William Thompson?—walked up to a stranger on the streets of lower Manhattan and engaged him in a few minutes of intimate small talk. The stranger felt that he knew but couldn't place this friendly fellow; certainly he seemed like an old friend who was delighted to see him. Williams (as we'll call him) then asked the stranger, in a disarmingly direct manner, whether or not he had confidence in him. When the man answered yes, the only possible answer in polite conversation, Williams said jovially, "Have you confidence in me to trust me with your watch until to-morrow?" In high humor, his mark handed over his gold watch. And Williams sauntered off into the city, laughing and promising over his shoulder that he'd return the watch the next day. In the span of just a few days in May, he swindled John Deraismes out of a watch valued at $114, John Sturges out of a watch worth $80, and Hugh C. McDonald out of a watch valued at $100.
I was slightly skeptical, but the OED bears this out: their first entry for confidence trick is 1849, in a newspaper story about this exact incident. Who knew.

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