or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Friday, September 01, 2006


Here's an illustration, from the latest issue of the New Yorker online, of a usage so new it hasn't made it into the dictionaries yet--one I find strangely delightful.

The show’s cinéma vérité scrupulousness makes us glean for ourselves how long Wexler has been in Congress (ten years); his political leanings (very liberal); or why he seems to be in disfavor with Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders (perhaps because he’s a maverick and a TV whore; the Los Angeles Times once called him “the human advertisement for the mute button”).

Now, a whore, as we all know, is someone who sells his or her body for cash, in a sexual sense. The term has long been used in an extended sense to refer to someone who sells his or her principles for cash, and therefore is an unprincipled person. (The OED lists such a usage from 1633.)

This new sense, though: it's entirely different. You can see how it emerged from the extended metaphorical use, but the sense of loss of principle is entirely gone: it simply refers to someone who will go to great lengths to be famous. There's no implication in the New Yorker quote that Wexler is devious or that he's sold himself politically to the highest bidder: "TV whore" simply means that he will do anything to get himself in the public eye. "Fame whore" and "media whore" are two other versions of the same idea; nothing illicit is implied, just an unconquerable lust for fame or notoriety. (If you Google "paris hilton" alongside "media whore" you'll get over 15,000 hits.)

And if you Google the term "TV whore", you'll find yet another sense even farther removed from that one: it simply means someone who can't get enough television, as in this blog entry. It's not just television: "whore" can be attached to almost any concrete noun you care to name to denote someone who's indiscriminate in their love of something. (The sense isn't as distant from the original as it might seem to the picky: it carries an overtone of willingness to do anything, including sell oneself, in order to have access to the love-object in question.) I had a friend whose consuming desire to own a particular very expensive vehicle led to the nickname "truck whore", and I've been called a "cologne whore" by people who know of my large collection of scents.

I suppose there are people harrumphing over this usage, but I like it.


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