Request Denied


I've always wanted a rubber stamp that said "REQUEST DENIED", although I don't know if I'd ever be able to bring myself to use it. (That said, I once had made, and gave to someone as a gift, a rubber stamp that was a full eleven inches wide and four inches tall, which said PISS OFF! in all caps. That was fun to pick up at the office-supply store.)
But if I did have a "REQUEST DENIED" stamp, I'd use it for this semi-serious request that was written about here, at the Volokh Conspiracy:

Instead of creating a new word to represent someone who is receiving guidance under a mentor as a 'mentee', couldn't someone (not certain of who is responsible for adding/changing definitions to the official dictionaries) simply add an additional definition to the word protege to allow for further meaning?

Okay. Let's unpack this a bit:

  • There is no one person who is responsible for "adding/changing definitions to the official dictionaries" — at least, not for English, as English has no "official dictionaries." Perhaps you're thinking of French?
  • Dictionaries (as is, thankfully, pointed out in the original post) don't add new definitions "to allow for further meaning". "Further meanings: allowed" is the DEFAULT SETTING. You want to use protege to mean mentee? Go ahead, knock yourself out — just be prepared to be misunderstood.
    (Me, I occasionally use henimus to mean "(not a) genius", based on a MISUNDERSTANDING of this episode ["Girlfriend 2000"] from the old Chris Elliott show "Get a Life", which I think four people watched … although the toxic-waste-doping spelling bee episode, "Chris's Brain", with its prize of a jewel-encrusted dictionary, is a Dictionary Evangelist favorite. But I don't expect to be understood when I use henimus, because it's about as obscure as you can get.)
  • If you don't like mentee, there's no reason you have to use it: say "the person I mentor," or some other work-around. Just because a word exists doesn't imply that its use is obligatory.

Also worth rebutting (which Volokh does quite well, but I'll throw in a couple pennies as well): the idea that if the word mentee exists, that this implies the existence of the verb to ment. I don't know where this notion came from, but English morphology is a bit more fluid than this. You can certainly go from mentor to mentee without having to postulate some missing-link verb *ment. Although, frankly, I'm considering using ment now (strictly jocularly, and on my own recognizance) just to piss those anti-mentee people off.
To sum up: yes, mentee is a slightly awkward word. Give it time to grow up a bit, or use a work-around of some sort … although if you decide to repurpose another word, be prepared for some "what?" reactions. But, please, don't waste your time or anyone else's trying to get a dictionary to record a change that hasn't yet happened in the language. We have enough to do keeping up with the changes that have!
Thanks to Kat for the link!

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A New Eponym

As I know all of you know, an eponym is a word that comes from somebody's name. Braille from Louis Braille, silhouette from √Čtienne de Silhouette, etc., so on and so forth.
Leah sent me a link some time ago to a new eponym from Stephanie Pearl-McPhee (also known as The Yarn Harlot): kinnearing, after the actor Greg Kinnear, whom she ran into at the airport. Kinnearing is taking surreptitious pictures of someone (possibly someone famous) without being obvious about it, or, in fact, without even looking through the camera's viewfinder. But you should really go read her post about it.
I realized I often kinnear (with my cameraphone) people on the subway or in the airport who are reading books by people I have met, which happens more than you might think. Then I send the pictures to the author, you know, just in case they have some paranoid idea that no one is actually reading their books. For instance, this woman is reading Wake Up, Sir! by Jonathan Ames:

And this person is reading The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson (although I can't remember if I sent him this photo or not, I guess I'll just send him the link to this post):

I know, I know, it's a weird practice, but as a dictionary editor the chances are slim (or, more likely, none) that I will ever see someone randomly using a book I worked on in the subway … if you ever see that happen, kinnear away!

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Formal grammatical rules may help a weak or stupid mind, but a vigorous intellect creates new and more accurate forms and less gifted thinkers intuitively accept without a thought these beautiful creations as they accept without a thought the countless creations of nature with which they are surrounded. Thus our language is growing richer from generation to generation.

G. Curme, Has English A Future Tense?, The Journal of English and German Philolog, 12(5):528-529