But our story has a happier ending: Safire uses the term e-maelstrom and, before closing with a classic little bit about how maelstrom really ought to be capitalized -- give me a freakin' break -- it is simpy not a proper noun in contemporary English in any real sense unless you're actually talking about that particular tidal current off of Norway, which happens only in discussions of the history of the word and maybe among those who sail the region --, Safire pompously claims:
Don't knock yourself out looking for the origin of e-maelstrom, "a storm of electronic communications." It was minted today, right here ... .Actually, that can only be true in a trivial sense and presumably not the one Safire intends: He may have made it up -- rather than learning it from a dictionary or something -- but the term gets about 1,450 g-hits (that is, hits in a google search), going back a couple of years and including stories on CNN, in the Chronicle of Higher Education and Seattle Weekly, and it's in both Urban Dictionary and pseudodictionary.com. That the word has been constantly coined by different people is utterly unsurprisingly given the wild productivity of e- prefixing and the use of maelstrom for 'flurries of communication' (to paraphrase from the entry in pseudodictionary.com: E-maelstrom). Also unsurprising is that the meaning varies considerably -- from being more or less a synonym for spam to perhaps the most useful: "A long and complicated email trail with dozens of CC's discussing a situation almost none of the recipients cares about" at Urban Dictionary.
Safire of course has a research assistant and may even access to the internet himself. How does he get away with such stuff? Does nobody at the NYT bother to check his facts?