Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Is the Word "Bigfoot" Losing its Definition?

When Google became a verb it was a good thing for Google. The same is true for many other brands that become so ubiquitous, it becomes an action or category. For example you can Xerox or FedEx a document, and Kleenex and Q-Tips are really brands for tissue and cotton swabs. Unfortunately I fear the same can not be said for Bigfoot.

First, there are a lot of things called Bigfoot, Sasquatch, or Yeti that are not Bigfoot, Sasquatch, or Yeti.

Allow our "Collage of Google Image Search Results for Bigfoot, Sasquatch or Yeti" to illustrate.

Don't worry, I don't have an issue if Bigfoot, Sasquatch or Yeti are used in popular culture, especially since all the pictures above are references to Bigfoot, Sasquatch or Yeti--Except for the two pictures that are literally big feet!

I'm concerned about something different. Going back to what I was saying in the beginning, when Google became a verb it was good for Google. We can't say the same with Bigfoot. The word "bigfoot" has become common vernacular for journalist and it has nothing to do with our favorite forest dwelller.

Recently the blog the Word Detective enlightens a reader on the history of this journalistic term.
...since about 1980, “bigfoot” has been used as slang among journalists to mean “a prominent or well-known columnist or political reporter,” i.e., a “celebrity” journalist. According to an explanation offered by William Safire (himself just such a “bigfoot”) back in 1985, the term was coined as a joke during the 1980 US presidential campaign, when Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Hedrick Smith of the New York Times appeared on the press plane with his injured foot encased in a large cast.

Once considered a compliment of sorts, the Word detective goes on to elaborate how the word "bigfoot" has evolved into more of a derogatory slang among journalist. To "bigfoot” is “to snatch a story away from a lower-ranking reporter. In this use, as a transitive verb, "bigfoot" is quickly expanding to a more general definition, “to throw one’s weight around” or “to bully,”

For us Bigfoot will always be, first and foremost, a capitalized noun--not to mention an elusive hirsute bipedal hominid that we hope the world will someday discover.

You can read the Word Detective's more detailed column about the journalistic version of "bigfoot" here.

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