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New word of the month
by Kerry Maxwell

pumpkineer noun [C]
a person who grows very large pumpkins, especially a person who takes part in pumpkin growing contests

'Greetings, fellow pumpkineers! I'm a fourth year grower, and I have available free seeds from some Atlantic Giants I have grown. While my fruit always seems to be much smaller than I'd like each year I figure out a little bit more of what I can do better.'
(Rick Inzero, home.rochester.rr.com/srinz/rickseeds.2001.html, 2002)

For many of us, the preparation of a Halloween lantern, a seasonal encounter of scraping out pumpkin flesh with our children, is our only annual contact with that giant orange gourd. However there are others for whom the business of pumpkins is a year-round preoccupation.

Particularly popular in Canada and the United States, humongous pumpkin growing is a serious hobby, as the quote above illustrates. Every year would-be prize-winning pumpkineers exchange news and views on seed varieties and 'unofficial weight' (abbreviated to UOW by pumpkin growing experts). There's a World Pumpkin Confederation, and even books on the subject, but then the exploits of the pumpkineer can be lucrative. In Ontario, Canada, the annual provincial pumpkin festival carries a first prize of fifteen thousand Canadian dollars.

Coined in the late eighties, pumpkineer is of course a blend of the words pumpkin and engineer. It is therefore aptly used to describe another pumpkin-centred activity: not pumpkin growing but pumpkin throwing. Over three days from 31st October 2003, pumpkineers from all over the United States and beyond will be gathering in Delaware for the 18th Annual World Championship Punkin Chunkin competition. Over thirty thousand spectators are expected to witness this spectacle, as competitors blast, launch and propel pumpkins as far as possible. The competition began in 1986 when farmers John Ellsworth, Trey Melson and Bill Thompson challenged each other to a pumpkin throwing duel in a field. The longest shot that year was 126 feet. These days teams of pumpkineers aspire to beat records of over three quarters of a mile, building a variety of crazy diesel-powered, spring-loaded, centrifugal or otherwise engineered machines to secure the winning throw, which in 2002 was a massive 3881.54 feet!

Returning to the world of neologisms, and while on the subject of pumpkins, it is interesting to note that, like many other food-related terms such as ham, breadcrumb and meatloaf, the word pumpkin has also made an appearance in the world of computing jargon. If a group of programmers are working jointly on a program, a particular programmer is often said to 'have the pumpkin', meaning that they at that time have the necessary access in order to make changes to the programming code, whilst others may only read it. This designated programmer, the pumpkin bearer, is also humorously referred to as the pumpkineer.

To continue the autumnal theme, those of us who are not busy programming or building pumpkin throwing machines may enjoy a spot of leaf peeping:

'Summer is history for most of the country and leaves are getting ready to turn colors. Before you rush out the door to admire autumn's colorful display, look to the Internet for guides to some of the best places and times for leaf peeping.'
(USA Today, 3rd July 2000)

The uncountable noun leaf peeping was also coined in the early eighties, and as the quote suggests, describes the activity of seeking out places where a large number of trees have adopted their autumnal colours. Trees like the birch, poplar and maple can turn fantastic shades of red, orange and yellow in the autumn, and it is the search for this splendid array of colour which preoccupies the leaf peeper, the term coined for someone who regularly and enthusiastically engages in this activity. There is even evidence for an intransitive verb, to leaf-peep, as in We leaf-peeped along the forest roads and a participle adjective leaf-peeping, as in, for instance, leaf-peeping spots.

The phenomenon of leaf peeping is big business in the United States, contributing significantly to the economy of areas like New England, where throngs of leaf peepers set out every autumn by car and bus, thereby creating so-called foliage traffic. In fact the word foliage finds its way into a variety of compound nouns coined to discuss this phenomenon, such as foliage reports which provide information, foliage routes which describe the best paths to follow, foliage updates which give the latest news, and foliage sites, which provide Internet-based sources of information on the best locations for leaf peeping.


For more information about new and topical words and phrases, read Kerry's Word of the Week articles on the MED Resource Site.