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Interview With Dennis Preston

Aired January 10, 2004 - 18:34   ET


CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, do you know what the word flextarian means? How about freegan? OK, give up. Those are just two of the new words making the American Dialect Society's list of the best words or phrases of 2003. Dennis Preston is with the society and he joins us from Boston with a look at last year's jargon and what it all means. Dennis, it was kind of fun to take a look at your list.
DENNIS PRESTON, AMERICAN DIALECT SOCIETY: This is a nice list. In the years we have been doing it, this is one of my favorites lists. I was sorry we had to exclude some from some of our champions.

LIN: Well, I love your word of the year.

PRESTON: Oh, I think metrosexual gets us away from something that society has almost felt compelled to do for a couple of years. We had 9/11, of course, we had weapons of mass destruction. It is time for us to lighten up. And metrosexual is certainly a nice word.

LIN: Are you a metrosexual?

PRESTON: No, I've actually coined a new term. I think I am a rural or rustic sexual myself, which I think maybe will mean a man from a rustic or rural backgrounds.

LIN: OK, so no facials for your. All right, let's talk about the most useful word.

PRESTON: Well, the most useful word is usually a word that replaces something where you have to just use a whole bunch of words to explain what you mean. And flextarian just goes straight to the fact, yes, I am a vegetarian, but on Thanksgiving I will have a little turkey. Or if I came to your house and you had chicken I will eat it anyway.

LIN: Right, the people who say, yes, I only eat fish and chicken.

PRESTON: Right, yes.

LIN: OK, all right, how about, what is freegan?

PRESTON: Well, freegan, I like. This is one of my favorite words of the year. We've got vegans, people who eat only vegetables, very strictly. But freegans are people who only eat free food. I like this one.

LIN: I know a few people like that. All right, most unnecessary.

PRESTON: Most unnecessary words seem to us to be the whole bunch of words and compounds that were formed with freedom in reaction to the French unwillingness to accompany us into Iraq so that we did away with French kissing and had freedom kissing. And I think most famously in Washington, DC for even official meals we did away with French fries and had freedom fries. So all those freedom words struck us a little silly.

LIN: All right, and now we are going to get deep. The most euphemistic - and it is a phrase not a word?

PRESTON: Yes, it is a phrase. We call this the word of the year, but we very often I teasingly said we should have the verb of the year and the prepositional phrase of the year but I think that might not attract as much public attention. We went for the most euphemistic which, of course, is the word which tries to avoid saying directly what it means - pre-emptive self defense. It sounded a lot like attack to us.

LIN: All right, what about tomacco? I don't even know what a tomacco is.

PRESTON: Tomacco is the least likely to succeed word. Our lexicographers tell us that was first used by Bart Simpson on the Simpsons. But then after that some very clever agriculturalists actually put together a tobacco plant and a tomato plant ...

LIN: And why would they do that?

PRESTON: Well, just for fun.

LIN: What do you get?

PRESTON: Well, you get a tomacco.

LIN: A tomato you can smoke?

PRESTON: You get tomacco. But you've got to remember that tomato is part of the nightshade family and the tomacco plant that they came up with for a deadly poisonous fruit.

LIN: OK, and best revival word, best word to be brought back into the lexicon.

PRESTON: New category for us this year, but we had several we thought might be good runners. Spider hole probably dates back from what our serious lexicographers tell us back to the Second World War when independent Japanese soldiers in the South Pacific made small little fox holes and covered them so they could sort of secretly jump up. The word then started to die out. It did have some popularity in Vietnam apparently. But now, of course, since we found Saddam in his spider hole we chose spider hole for the best word revival of the year.

LIN: Yes, very visual. Well, Dennis, it sounds like you had a lot of fun with this. Thanks so much for joining us and explaining it to us.

PRESTON: We take it very seriously as you can tell it is one of the most serious academic pursuits of the American Dialect Society. And I hope you don't take that seriously.

LIN: I wasn't for a second. Thanks so much, Dennis Preston.

PRESTON: Your welcome.

LIN: Well, our own inspector gadget joins us from Las Vegas when we return. Daniel Sieberg has the latest hot tech toys around, including this underwater camera you are looking at. Daniel is going to show us how to use it.


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