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Open Dictionary word of the week: rubberneck

rubberneck (verb)

to stand on one’s toes in a crowd of ardent admirers to see a celebrity passing by

Surely he meant to say that “celebrity drivel and rubbernecking are what drive our site”.

(Submitted by: Matti Salonen from Finland)

Actually we have this word in the main dictionary but with this definition:

to look at something, especially a car accident, as you are passing it

Passing drivers slowed down to rubberneck at the accident.

A recent news headline attests to this definition of rubberneck:

Space Shuttle Endeavour flies over SF and LA, rubberneck traffic jams expected

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary rubberneck has been around since 1897:

1897, “person who is always listening to other people’s conversation; person who gazes around him with undue curiosity,” Popularized with reference to sightseers in automobiles. Also as a verb from 1897.

Whatever the context though, rubbernecking is definitely an affliction I suffer from and have been aware of suffering from since early childhood, when it was pointed out to me that I do it and that it is a particularly inelegant trait. To put it another way: a female parent of mine that shan’t be named would compare me to certain visitors from an inland city in South Africa that shan’t be named. These visitors would descend on our local beach town and rubberneck it around the place like nobody’s business. Certain family members referred to these visitors as the ‘kydaars’ which is an invented term from the Afrikaans ‘kyk daar’ and means in English ‘look there’. But it’s that phrase in the Online Etymology Dictionary ‘undue curiosity’ that gives me pause: undue? Well, the affliction remains with me and in fact I encourage it in my children – we are proud rubbernecking kydaars of celebrities, traffic accidents and the world in general. I mean, look there and there and there and there – the whole world is a famous car accident and isn’t it all so fascinating?

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Laine Redpath Cole

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