If there are children in the room as you read this, please shoo them away, because what follows is an intensely personal revelation on an issue they may not be old enough to understand.
In the interest of journalistic transparency, here is my confession: I am a sapiosexual.
How do I know? Because this new word, now being added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, defines someone who is romantically attracted to intelligent people.
So this explains why, many years ago while dating a woman who had earned several college degrees, I asked her to marry me (she was cute, too).
We won’t discuss whether her response reflected intelligence, but she said yes.
Back then, there may not have been a word for this brand of ardor, but times change and so does language – that’s why the Merriam-Webster folks recently announced that 520 new coinages have made the cut for dictionary inclusion.
They say it’s their responsibility to scour published material for new words and to decide when frequency of usage means they have become part of the language.
The company website notes that “Change and variation are as natural in language as they are in other areas of human life, and Merriam-Webster reference works must reflect that fact.”
As for sapiosexual – the sapio alluding to wisdom – the writer Kristin Sollée defines it as applying to a person who’s “more interested in someone’s bookshelf than their hot bod or bulging bank account.”
The term is believed to have been created by a blogger in 1998. It passed muster for inclusion, says Merriam-Webster, because it’s “showing up with increasing frequency in personal ads, advice columns, and even on t-shirts” used by people whose outlook “contrasts sharply with the often superficial, looks-oriented criteria traditionally associated with the beginnings of romance.”
What about other new words? As you might expect, the pandemic has created some, including “long-hauler,” someone suffering long-term effects from COVID 19. Pod and bubble, referring to small groups of people insulated from others, are also entered with their new additional meanings. This parallels Merriam-Webster’s declaration that “We collect new words as well as new ways of using old words… recent meanings of mouse and cookie… have nothing to do with rodents or baked goods.”
Then there’s “cancel culture” – the idea of ostracizing or “canceling” someone, on social media or in social circles, for views or actions that are considered offensive.
New ways of being on the job have added new terms to the dictionary, including “gig worker,” someone who takes temporary work, especially in the service industry. Then there’s “makerspace,” a communal place where people can work on small personal projects; and “crowdfunding,” seeking money for a cause by soliciting a large number of people, especially online.
Online communication has provided several other new entries, including “hard pass,” a firm rejection of something such as a job offer.
As with sapiosexual, new terms involving identity have made the Merriam-Webster grade, including BIPOC, a now-official acronym for Black, Indigenous, (and) People of Color.
“Silver Fox” has been around awhile, but it now rates a spot in the dictionary defining “an attractive middle-aged man having mostly gray or white hair.”
Here’s another new entry that Merriam-Webster says, in view of our new vice president’s husband, “has finally met our criteria for dictionary entry:”
“Second Gentleman: the husband or male partner of a vice president or second in command of a country or jurisdiction.”
Not exactly anything a Rhode Islander would have to look up.
Gerry Goldstein is a retired Providence Journal bureau chief and columnist.