Any devotee of the English language has been tempted to expand the dictionary. With the quick flip of a suffix, you can create a word where there was no word before. The media does this all the time. After Watergate, just about any slight controversy is worthy of a “gate”–like Apple’s Antennagate, or Timberlake/Jackson’s Nipplegate. There’s a whole page of gates over at Wikipedia.
But rarely do these made-up words really sink into the core of our lexicon, so that they’re used by the most upstanding publications without a hint of irony. Writer Stephen Fried has watched his made-up word “fashionista” snowball over the last 20 years. And in The Atlantic, he tells the story:
It is, I must admit, weird to have invented a word. And I’m still amazed at how it happened.
Fashionista first appeared on page 100 of my 1993 book Thing of Beauty: The Tragedy of Supermodel Gia. I created it because as I was writing about the fashion industry–and young model Gia Carangi’s immersion in it–there was no simple way to refer to all the people at a sitting for a magazine photo or print ad. I got tired of listing photographers, fashion editors, art directors, hairstylists, makeup artists, all their assistants, and models as the small army of people who descended on the scene…
…I never gave the word another thought, frankly, until it started showing up in the fall 1995 coverage of the European couture shows, both in the London Evening Standard and the Washington Post. A Lexis/Nexis search showed it was actually used three times in 1994, 26 times in 1995, 54 times in 1996 and 74 times in 1997.
The use of fashionista dramatically expanded in 1998, as did interest in my book, when HBO made a movie about Gia’s life, starring the young (and extremely naked) Angelina Jolie. The word was used more than 200 times in U.S. newspapers that year.
Today, “fashionista” resides safely in the The Oxford English Dictionary, to be considered a word long after we’ve all stopped saying it. Not a bad showing. Or should I say, a shining example of makingupawordthatisthenmadepopularbyacultfilmwhichitselfhasbeenmadepopularbysexsymbolnuditygate!
[Hat tip: Explore]
[IMAGE: Foreign and Commonwealth Office via Flickr]