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If only we could all be "jet-setters" - the fun kind, that is

There used to be a certain level of glitz and glamour associated with being a jet-setter. A jet-setter might attend a fashion show in Paris, then take off for an exclusive party in Dubai.

But today we often hear jet-setter used to describe someone who simply travels a lot, even if it's from one dimly-lit hotel conference room to another for business.

Regardless of the destination, have you ever wondered why we call someone who flies a lot a "jet-setter" and not a "jet sitter?"

The Oxford English Dictionary defines the "jet set" as a social group of "wealthy and fashionable people, especially those who travel widely and frequently for pleasure." After "jet set" comes into the language, "jet-setter" later becomes a way to refer to someone who is part of that social group.

The OED first cites the noun "jet set" in 1949. Here's an example from 1964: "The jet set has rediscovered St. Tropez." In the late 1950s, we start to see "jet-setter," as in this example: "...all of those jet-setters kicking up their heels in the South of France."

Not an accurate representation of Anne Curzan's work travels.

People have called our own Professor Anne Curzan a jet-setter because of her frequent travels for work. As such, she says she's had to reconsider how she thinks of the term.

"[People] will say, 'Oh, what a jet-setter you are.' Then I'll think 'Huh. I'm not going to the South of France to play,'" Curzan says.

Should "jet-setter" be used exclusively to refer to someone who travels frequently for pleasure? Or can it also refer to someone who simply travels a lot, for business or otherwise? Let us know at language@michiganradio.org.


Anne Curzan is the Geneva Smitherman Collegiate Professor of English and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan. She also holds faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education.
Rebecca Kruth is the host of All Things Considered at Michigan Public. She also co-hosts Michigan Public's weekly language podcast That’s What They Say with English professor Anne Curzan.
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