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February 01, 2018  |  Friday words #106, 2018-02-01  |  4027 hit(s)

February, finally. We had a bug in one of our internal tools at work that caused February to disappear, but some quick work by one of the writers saved the month just in time! PS Happy Groundhog Day.

Facebook Friend Doug recently posted something that alerted me to an emerging danger on American streets. Should you be worried? Maybe, if you're a petextrian: someone who texts while walking. (pedestrian + texting, right?) This term is older than I would have guessed—the first (only) entry in Urban Dictionary is from 2009, and that's hardly guaranteed to be the oldest attestation. Not that the idea of a pedestrian glued to their smartphone is surprising, or was as soon as texting was available.

For that matter, the idea of pedestrians being oblivious goes waaaay back: jaywalking— someone who "walks jay"—goes back pretty much as far as cars. And who can forget that delightful German children's story about "Hans-guck-in-die-Luft" (often translated as Johnny-look-in-the-air), a boy who walks around staring at the sky. Since this is a German children's story, it of course has a bad ending, for young Hans walks straight into the river and loses his books. (Compared to some of the other children in the story collection, he got off easy.)

Another new-to-me term (but old news to the younger set) came up in a news story recently about a woman who was booted out of college for posting a racist video on her Instagram [account]. It's possible she thought this wouldn't be widely seen because she posted it on her finsta. This refers to a "fake+Instagram+account," a more-private account that's supposed to be just for close friends. One article notes that "The birth of the Finsta can be traced to the time period between the generational hijacking of Facebook and Instagram and the generational adoption of SnapChat." (The birth of young people doing dumb things goes back considerably longer than that.)

As a bonus, the article asserts that the more-public account is a rinstagram, for "real Instagram." According to local sources (i.e., daughters), the term is real insta or rinsta. These same local sources also alerted me to the sinsta, where people post nude/drug photos (or "scandalous photos," as UD has it), a compound of sin+[In]sta[gram]. One of the daughters summarized it this way: "Instas (or rinstas) are for photos, finstas are for double lives, and sinstas are for confessing to murders." But, she added, "sinsta is more or less another word for a finsta. most people don't actually have three bc that's just extra af." There was more amusing discussion of the different use cases and privacy settings, but I'll have to leave that for another time. In the meantime we hope that socio-dialectologists are on the case.

Fun as that was, let's talk word origins. Last weekend I was staring at the toaster oven waiting for the cheese to melt and got to wondering where the word nachos came from. A story that a lot of food writers accept is that it's an eponym. According to the story, in the 1940s, some American women were in the Mexican border town of Piedras Negras and went to a restaurant looking for something to eat. The kitchen was closed, but the maître d' put together a snack from fried tortillas and cheese. The dude was Ignacio Anaya, whose nickname was Nacho, and he (again supposedly) named his snack Nacho's especiales. I'm not sure whether this story holds up to lexicographic scrutiny, but as I say, it's a popular tale, and it's not by any means implausible. Even if it's not true, I did learn that Nacho is a nickname for Ignacio (how did I not already know this?), which is another reason to like the character of Nacho Vargas on Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul.

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Allayna Farmer   02 Feb 18 - 5:36 PM

You know what? 3 Instragrams is extra af