In yesterday’s NYT Sunday Review, a piece by Arlie Russell Hochschild on “The Outsourced Life”, beginning:

In the sprawling outskirts of San Jose, Calif., I find myself at the apartment door of Katherine Ziegler, a psychologist and wantologist. Could it be, I wonder, that there is such a thing as a wantologist, someone we can hire to figure out what we want? Have I arrived at some final telling moment in my research on outsourcing intimate parts of our lives, or at the absurdist edge of the market frontier?

Ah yes, wantologist, with the Greco-Latin libfix -ology attached to the very native English root want.

(Later I’ll look a little bit at the content of Hochschild’s piece, but first, remarks on morphology.)

From Michael Quinion’s affix site, on -logy:

A subject of study or interest; speech or language.

[French -logie or medieval Latin -logia, from Greek logos, word or speech.]

Many examples relating to a field of study exist, … [examples follow]. Almost all precede the ending with -o-

The ending is active in forming new words. It is often used to create temporary or humorous forms, as with gizmology, the subject of gizmos or gadgets; sleazology, the investigation or study of sordid and corrupt behaviour; mindology, a facetious alternative to psychology. Ology has existed since the early nineteenth century as an informal term for any subject of study or branch of knowledge.

I’ve mentioned the libfix in passing on this blog, in connection with Bigfoot-ologist.

In any case, wantologist to have established itself as a job title.

From Hochschild’s piece:

… Is the wantologist the tail end of a larger story? Over the last century, the world of services has changed greatly.

A hundred — or even 40 — years ago, human eggs and sperm were not for sale, nor were wombs for rent. Online dating companies, nameologists, life coaches, party animators and paid graveside visitors did not exist.

Nor had a language developed that so seamlessly melded village and market — as in “Rent-a-Mom,” “Rent-a-Dad,” “Rent-a-Grandma,” “Rent-a-Friend” — insinuating itself, half joking, half serious, into our culture. The explosion in the number of available personal services says a great deal about changing ideas of what we can reasonably expect from whom.

… As we outsource more of our private lives, we find it increasingly possible to outsource emotional attachment.

The article is illustrated by a collection of ads for personal services of all kinds: rent-a-ferret, life coaches, dating coaches, etc. Even, for those who need to hone their cooking skills, a knife coach (pun alert!).

Hochschild maintains that this purchasing of services is a recent development. But there’s a whole series of paid services throughout history. Professional mourners:

Professional mourning or paid mourning is a mostly historical occupation practiced in Near Eastern cultures and many other parts of the world. Professional mourners, also called moirologists, are compensated to lament or deliver a eulogy. Mentioned in the Bible, the occupation is widely invoked in literature, from the Ugaritic epics of early centuries BC to modern poetry. Held in high esteem in some cultures and times, the practice was vilified in others.

In Honoré de Balzac’s landmark 1835 novel Le Père Goriot, the title character’s funeral is attended by two professional mourners rather than his daughters.

Paid audiences:

A claque (French for “clap”) is an organized body of professional applauders in French theatres and opera houses [and elsewhere]. Members of a claque are called claqueurs.

Hiring people to applaud dramatic performances was common in classical times. For example, when the emperor Nero acted, he had his performance greeted by an encomium chanted by five thousand of his soldiers.

This inspired the 16th-century French poet Jean Daurat to develop the modern claque. Buying a number of tickets for a performance of one of his plays, he gave them away in return for a promise of applause. In 1820 claques underwent serious systematization when an agency in Paris opened to manage and supply claqueurs.

Plus professional / personal / corporate shoppers, professional letter writers, match-makers, and more. It might be that the range of such services has increased in the past century and that they’ve become more ubiquitous, but that would have to be established before we bemoan the creeping intrusion of markets into our personal lives.


One Response to “wantology”

  1. markonsea Says:

    Let’s keep getting a mention for Terry Pratchett: his witches cure people using “headology”, which is not far different from how professional magicians or hypnotists work.

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