Friday, 4 November 2016
Happy Friday, words peeps. After last week's catch-up opus, I'm going to keep this one short (for me), even tho my collection keeps growing.
The first new-to-me term is yet another new entry in my growing collection of laws, effects, and principles: the cheerleader effect. Just from the name, it might not be easy to guess what this describes. According to the article where I learned about it, the cheerleader effect explains that "individual faces appear more attractive when presented in a group than when presented alone." IOW, you'll look better in a group photo. Is the theory.
Trying to track down the origin of this term is a little frustrating, because many sources say that it was coined "by Barney Stinson, a character on the TV show How I Met Your Mother," going back to an episode from 2008 of that show. But TV characters don't invent things, and I have not yet found something that indicates where the show's writers might have gotten the term. I mean, maybe they invented it, but if so, it would be good to get that credited.
Anyway, using the term cheerleader for the effect here is an interesting choice, in that it seems to allude to looking at (and judging the attractiveness of) groups of women specifically. For example, one source I found says that other names for this effect are the Bridesmaid Paradox and Sorority Girl Syndrome. Is there a variant of this name that is gender neutral? Operators are standing by.
Etymology. I attended a talk this week by Daniel Menaker, who has a new book titled The African Svelte: Ingenious Misspellings That Make Surprising Sense. This is a collection of eggcorns, basically, with fun illustrations by Roz Chast. One of the examples he discussed was jaywalking. Some people write this as "J-walking," possibly with the idea that a jaywalker is proceeding along a path described by the letter J.
Well, no. But where does the jay- part come from? In his talk, Menaker said it referred to the bird (like a bluejay). This is backed up by at least one dictionary, but the connection is not explained. Douglas Harper agrees, and adds a provisional connection: "perhaps with notion of boldness and impudence."
The OED suggests an alternative derivation; in their entry, they link the jay of jaywalking to an old definition meaning "a stupid or silly person." In that sense, jay goes back to the 1500s.
Turns out some lexicographic big guns have tackled this. In one of his Wall Street Journal columns (paywall), Ben Zimmer traces jaywalking (based on research by Paul McFedries). Michael Quinion also has a column about this word.
So: jay as "stupid or silly" probably derives from the noisy chattering of that bird. (There's the missing connection.) In the early days of the automobile, people who drove erratically were jay drivers: they drove in a stupid or silly way. This notion of driving jay was then applied to pedestrians. The first cites seem to come from Kansas, 1904 for jay driver and 1906 for jay walker.
Based on what I see every day whilst out on the roads, I think we should revive the term jay driving. What do you think?
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