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Please mag me, bro

Posted by Jan Freeman, keep until April January 18, 2009 04:49 PM

Beth David e-mailed to ask about Obama's use of the word "magged" in his TV interview with George Stephanopoulos last Sunday. "You don't want to subject your fellow church members, the rest of the congregation, to being magged every time you go to church," Obama said, but David couldn't find a definition anywhere for "magged."

I didn't have one myself, but luckily, the Reuters version of the story helped out, glossing "being magged" as "walking through metal detectors." Logical enough, as slang goes, since metal detectors work by generating a magnetic field.

Still, it was interesting that so many news outlets ran the word without a definition, since it's not all that common in everyday language. The earliest cite on Nexis is from 1983, when the AP reported that a group of Hispanic visitors were "magged" before being allowed to see President Reagan. But "magged" has only appeared in US newspapers 27 times in 26 years -- not a frequency that would suggest it's on everyone's lips.

In any case, isn't Obama being oversolicitous in his concern for his fellow parishioners? Surely Washingtonians -- for now, at least -- will be lined up at the church doors, begging to be "magged" (or more), if that's the price of worshiping along with the president's family.

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Rules and realities of English usage from Boston Globe Ideas columnist Jan Freeman.
Jan Freeman, a former Boston Globe editor, has been writing the weekly column The Word since 1997. E-mail her at

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