On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

What’s in a word?

A lot, it seems. For starters, it’s much cooler to be a mixologist than a bartender.

I HAVE to confess that I have never heard of the word until recently. I thought they were just known as bartenders but now, many are known as mixologists.

Mixology is generally accepted as a slang term to refer to the “refined and in-depth study of the art and science of mixing”. A bartender or bar chef who has become an expert on mixing drinks is therefore known as a mixologist.

Well, to me he’s just mixing drinks and some of them do it pretty well, but I am still trying to figure out what the science behind it is.

But hey, there is a scientific ring to the term mixologist and it certainly sounds more authoritative and respectable than bartender.

Then there is the barista, who is essentially the person who prepares the coffee for you at Starbucks or Coffee Bean.

According to a report on the Internet, a barista is an Italian term for the bartender who works behind a counter, serving both hot, preferably an espresso, and cold drinks.

Certainly, barista sounds better than a kopi tiam waiter who has to take your order for kopi kaw with thick condensed milk.

Well, what’s in a name? Plenty! It’s much cooler, especially among the younger set, to sign up for a job that sounds respectable.

An advertisement for an administrative assistant is likely to elicit more responses than one looking for office boys. In the 1960s, they were known as peons but that’s an outdated term now.

I am told that even at nightclubs, patrons are no longer looking for guest relations officers (GROs) but club ambassadors. Night club hostesses? No way, that’s so 50s!

In schools, it’s not vogue to be known as the headmaster or principal – a school director surely sounds better.

Americans are notoriously famous for such title creations. In the United Kingdom, a manager is essentially someone who heads a department or office but in the United States, they would refer to this person as a vice-president, which does sound more powerful.

I had thought an evangelist is someone who preaches the Christian Gospel until I learnt recently that evangelist can also refer to a technology geek “who builds a critical mass of support for a given technology, and then establishes it as a technical standard in a market”.

In my time, the cosmetics salesgirl was simply someone who sells beauty products but now they must be known as beauty consultants. Beautician just isn’t good enough.

Life was so much simpler then. Housewives were just housewives. Then they became home makers and eventually home ministers!

During the 60s, hospitals used to be called sanitariums (or sanatoriums). Most dictionaries define sanitariums as places for “improvement or maintenance of health, especially for convalescents”.

Then they were called hospitals – which, according to the spirit of the word, meant a place where there’s hospitality.

By the 80s, hospitals were meant for the poor while the richer patients went to medical centres – where the charges are higher, of course. The term “sanitarium” is no longer used in most parts of the English-speaking world now.

Overnight, massage parlours also turned into spas and wellness centres, which sound more clinical but certainly no less seedy.

There are also many words that are unique to a particular country and are unlikely to be found in any dictionary. In Malaysia, we have the term “gostan” which is neither a Malay nor an English word. It’s actually “go astern” which, in simpler English, means reverse.

Then there is the popular term “going outstation”, which is uniquely Malaysian and Singaporean. It’s an old colonial British term to describe an officer travelling out of base when he goes from one station, or posting, to another. Certainly, for Malaysians, there’s really no station to go to except to travel to another state.

And now I have learned a new term – twerking – which an online dictionary described as “rhythmic gyrating of the lower fleshy extremities in a lascivious manner with the intent to elicit sexual arousal”.

Well, in simple language, in my time it was just sexual thrusts hiding behind what are supposedly dance movements.

As for me, whether one is a reporter, journalist or a writer, the term that best refers to people like us is the one used by columnist Karim Raslan who calls himself tukang cerita or story teller. We certainly have plenty of cerita to share each time we get into the writing mood.