Date: Sat, 13 Jun 1998 17:16:41 -0400
From: Paul McFedries
Subject: There's a Spy in your midst


I understand some folks on this list have been talking about me, so I hope
you don't mind if I skip the usual lurking period and post posthaste.

My name is Paul McFedries and I'm the proprietor of The Word Spy mailing
list and Web site ( I believe Barry
Popik mentioned The Word Spy on this list earlier in the week.

The Word Spy began life almost three years ago as The Daily Word. At first
the list was a daily message that highlighted words I found interesting or
unusual. Eventually the list began to focus more on my true linguistic love:
new words, or old words used in new ways. As a busy author (I write computer
books for a living), I often wouldn't have time to research new words, so
I'd use convenient sources such as Jargon Watch and the Jargon File.

While I found many of the words in these sources to be quite clever, they
often seemed like "mere" neologisms: words that no one would actually use in
conversation or in writing. So now I generally shun other "jargon" sources.
Instead, I scour books, newspapers, and magazines for interesting new words
and phrases. I then do a search on the word (in Lexis-Nexis, for example),
and try to uncover the way the word is being used in the real world.

The list is now called The Word Spy, which comes from my habit of attending
trade shows and conferences and listening in on other people's conversations
and presentations as a way of discovering how they use words.

Barry was kind enough to send me part of the thread that discussed my list.
In one message, he seemed to infer that the word "Spy" in the name meant
that I was stealing words from other sources. While that may have been true
in the early days, it is *not* true now. Instead, "Spy" refers to the other
meanings of the word: "To discover by close observation" and "To investigate

There was also some question of whose site was "hotter," mine or someone
else's. First of all, it's absurd to put this kind of thing in competitive
terms. New words are fascinating, and who cares if someone else finds one
first? In any case, my list could never be considered "hot," because I rely
solely on mainstream media. Other people with far more patience and courage
than I can wade through the "verbal landfill" (to use a Word Spy word) that
is Usenet, or the drivel that passes for most chat room conversations.

Anyway, I've carried on for far too long. If you're interested in The Word
Spy mailing list, you can join by sending a note to
listmanager[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE], with only the following in the message body:

subscribe wordspy

I'm looking forward to participating in this list, and to many fascinating
conversations about words.

Paul McFedries