November 13, 2007

Locavore vs. localvore: the coiner speaks

As I announced yesterday, locavore ('one who endeavors to eat only locally produced foods') has been selected as the New Oxford American Dictionary's Word of the Year. I wondered why the original "locavores" — four women in San Francisco who challenged local residents in 2005 to eat only food grown in a 100-mile radius — chose that particular spelling instead of localvore with an extra l, favored by some other groups. I wrote: "Unlike other word formations lost in the mists of time, this is a case where the origin can be firmly pinpointed, so perhaps the true story of loca(l)vore will be revealed in more detail by the coiners themselves." Well, sure enough, the coiner of locavore, Jessica Prentice, emailed to explain how she came up with the word.

Jessica writes:

I thought about both "localvore" and "locavore" and decided on the latter. First of all, it's easier to say, has a better flow, and almost sounds like a "real" word. But also my understanding is that the prefix "loc(a)" has to do with place — as in "location", "locomotive" and "locus"... The ending "vore" has to do with eating, and is the same root as the word "devour". To me the word "locavore" means, in a sense, "a person who eats the place" or even "one who eats with a sense of place" or, better yet, "one who devours the place" (I enjoy eating). To have used "localvore" would have limited the possible resonances and shades of meaning of the word — in my opinion.

New England locavores added the "l" because (I believe) they didn't like the association with "loca" as in the Spanish for "crazy." I live on the West Coast, where "loca" in that sense is more a positive than a negative. We're less serious out here... :-) Also, if journalists wanted to question me on that association, it would be an opportunity to explain that what is really crazy is the amount of unnecessary importation and exportation of food that currently happens in our globalized food system. So again in that way I find it to be a more expansive word.

(You can hear me talking about locavore and other Word of the Year candidates on "Here & Now," broadcast earlier today on WBUR in Boston.)

Posted by Benjamin Zimmer at November 13, 2007 02:11 PM