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24 July, 2008

Pescatarian or Vegaquarian?

Location: the lexicon
Mood: halfway between amused and annoyed

Language can be entertaining. I wish that I had a greater familiarity with languages besides English, so that I could speak to the issue of whether we have a greater propensity for inventing words compared with other languages or cultures. The variety of options for describing dietary choices (or do I need to be politically correct and refer to these as "lifestyles") has certainly expanded quite a bit during the past few decades. If we think about the biological terms for animal diets, we've got "carnivore", "herbivore" and "omnivore". I do wonder why vegetarians did not simply refer to themselves as herbivores.

What's the history of "vegetarian"?

If you go to Etymology Online they will tell you that "The general use of the word appears to have been largely due to the formation of the Vegetarian Society in Ramsgate in 1847."

So that term has been around for a long time.

Other terms have evolved more recently to describe the host of dietary variations. The Vegan Society, which coined the term vegan as we know it, was established in 1944. I was not able to quickly find origins or time stamps for more recent categorizations such as "vegaquarian" (which I have seen misused as "vegaquarium", which is kind of funny), or "pescatarian" (which is referred to by Wikipedia as "pescEtarian"). And of course, there are the even sillier ones like "meatatarian" and "pizzatarian" which I am pretty sure nobody uses seriously.

And when you think about all of these, you could take two different angles. You could say "Why do we need another ridiculous word in our already bloated language?" and it would be a valid question. Though, the extra space in a dictionary required for a few new words is not much of a disincentive to inventing those words. The other angle would be "One word can tell you exactly everything you wanted to know".

Vegaquarian - 11 letters. But it tells you that the person eats fruits, vegetables, dairy of all sorts, and just about anything that comes from under the water, except for whales, seals, and otters, give or take a few - but no other meats. So there's a lot of meaning there. Compared to commonly used words like "close" or "bun" or "boost" or "chair", vegaquarian doesn't leave much room for guessing what the person meant.

The fact that these are silly words is really just a function of their newness. I imagine that "vegetarian" sounded a bit silly 60 years ago. But now, it's plain as apple pie. And when you think about it, there are plenty of words that sound silly, but have been around forever. Take "awkward", for instance (whose origins date back to the Middle Ages). Can you think of another word (other than its derivatives) that has the letters "wkw" contained within? I will give a free ice cream to anyone who can produce for me a single unique (English) word that has that letter combination. It's really quite an awkward combination of letters, when you get right down to it.

Okay, that's all.

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