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showstopper (SHO-stop-uhr) noun

1. A performer or performance that wins enthusiastic or prolonged applause.

2. A spectacularly arresting or appealing person or thing.

"She grew up to be a showstopper, a hard act to follow in a family of legendary performers. At 28, Janet Jackson is at the very top of her game as one of the world's most dazzling superstars." Edwards, Audrey, The 1995 Essence Awards: 25 years of celebrating African-American achievement, Essence, 1 May 1995.

"Too bad this innocent little button caused data entry to come to a dead stop, leaving the user staring at the computer screen in confusion. I would never have known this feature was a showstopper ...." Paul Youngworth, Being there, Computerworld, 10 Aprl 1995.

How many times have you seen (and heard) the word `showstopper' used to refer to a possible hurdle in reaching a goal? Notice that in this usage the word is used in a pejorative sense instead of the positive sense that the word denotes. All the AWAD words for this week share this trait--they are often used `erroneously' so often that the `incorrect' sense of the word is understood by more people than the dictionary meaning. The new senses of these words are becoming established in dictionaries, often without any usage labels.

Why do I put the words `erroneously' and `incorrect' in quotes in the above paragraph? Because I believe a word is used properly as long as there is no ambiguity and the audience can understand the usage intended. Linguists call this the descriptive approach--letting the language flow--as opposed to straitjacketing it in some rules handed down by a committee.

Most languages have always been in flux and evolving. Their words have always been changing their meanings, lamentations of purists and "Letters to the Editor" notwithstanding. A few hundred years ago if you told someone they were nice, you'd be putting that person down as stupid. This will be the subject of a future week's theme in AWAD. -Anu


Seven blunders of the world that lead to violence: wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, worship without sacrifice, politics without principle. -Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)

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