June 24, 2004

Like a submarine out of the Gobi desert

Last week, I noted that Kyrie O'Connor at the Houston Chronicle has apparently coined a new word: smoothistas, for the people who mix and serve smoothies. This is obviously an analogy to barista, which has come to be used for the folks who work behind the counter at coffee bars.

At the time, I searched via Google and found nothing at all for smoothistas, and for smoothista, only a single usage in Finnish: "jotka hyppää toistaiseksi smoothista kokonaisuudesta esiin kuin sukellusvene Gobin autiomaassa". The spelling made it seem likely to be a borrowing, with the -sta part being elative case, but I can't read Finnish, and didn't have time to check with someone who can, so I left it there.

Now Stefano Taschini has sent email with the translation:

... a finnish friend told me that the sentence you reported ... is a relative clause meaning "that jump out of a seemingly smooth whole like a submarine out of the desert of Gobi."

Looking at the page where you excerpted that sentence from, he also told me that they are talking about music and this daring simile refers to some "riffs in minor mode."

OK, so Ms. O'Connor's international cross-linguistic priority on smoothista is safe. Meanwhile, though, it's been a whole week since smoothista hit print, and if anybody else has picked it up, Google doesn't know about it.

For added value, here's the OED entry for barista, showing a history in English back to 1982, or in the more modern sense to 1988:

A bartender in an Italian or Italian-style bar. Also spec. (orig. U.S.): a person who makes and serves coffee in a coffee bar (the more frequent sense in English).

1982 P. HOFMAN Rome, Sweet Tempestuous Life 24 A good barista can simultaneously keep an eye on the coffee oozing from the espresso machine into a battery of cups, pour vermouth and bitters..and discuss the miserable showing of the Lazio soccer team.
1988 Boston Globe (Nexis) 13 Dec. 61 A feisty but cordial competitor to the larger caffeine chains the [Boston Coffee] Exchange has unfurled a help-wanted poster titled ‘Learn to be a coffee barista’.
1990 Atlantic Nov. 157/2 This ritual unites all the baristas in Italy. But not everyone accomplishes the layer of light-colored crema, or foam, that is the pride of an expert espresso-maker.
1999 Dominion (Wellington, N.Z.) (Nexis) 24 Feb. (Business section) 24 New bariste undertake an intensive training programme which covers the philosophy, history, and science of coffee, and the psychology of service.
2001 Times 7 Mar. II. 5/1 The key to a good espresso lies in the barista..and whether he or she cares enough to do it right.


[Update 6/25/2004: Abnu at Wordlab has posted a note on smoothista from a naming and branding perspective. ]

Posted by Mark Liberman at June 24, 2004 08:35 AM