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Titanorak

noun [countable]

a person who has a keen interest in the history connected with the sinking of the passenger liner RMS Titanic in 1912

'There was a whiff of competitiveness in the air as passengers tried to out-Titanic each other. Evan Perelekos, 24, claimed to have been a Titanorak since he was four. "That's 20 years of research leading up to this day," said the casino manager, wearing a bowler hat and wire-rimmed glasses. …'

The Guardian 8th April 2012

The 15th April 2012 marked the hundredth anniversary of the sinking of the passenger ship Titanic, an event which caused the deaths of over 1500 people and represents one of the most serious peacetime disasters in nautical history. This eerie story has captured people's imagination for decades, and in the flurry of interest and activity that has predictably surrounded its centenary, a new expression has been coined. Those with a particular fascination for the Titanic disaster have been referred to as Titanoraks.

media reports highlighted a kind of 'Titanic-one-upmanship' between passengers, who gleefully talked, for example, about the number of Titanic books or artefacts they owned

In an attempt to recreate one of history's most infamous journeys, over 1300 people boarded the MS Balmoral in Southampton on 8th April 2012 for a 12 night Titanic memorial cruise. Around 70 per cent of the passengers on board professed to have some kind of personal connection with the Titanic, but many among these, and also those making up the rest of the passengers, were self-confessed Titanoraks, people who have an avid interest in this historical event. In coverage of the cruise, media reports highlighted a kind of 'Titanic-one-upmanship' between passengers, who gleefully talked, for example, about the number of Titanic books or artefacts they owned, Titanic jigsaws they'd completed, or how many times they'd seen the 1997 James Cameron Titanic movie. Others appeared to be more interested in the dressing up, donning long velvet coats and extravagant feathered hats.

However the term Titanorak is not just reserved for people who are obsessively intrigued by the story, but also applied to more serious historians, people who have spent years piecing together the finer historical details of the disaster, and who would previously have been described as Titanic 'buffs' or 'experts'. Titanic seems to attract a unique level of interest, and it's little wonder when you consider that there are so many captivating aspects to it, not least the sheer scale of the disaster, but also the opulence of the vessel, the irony of its conception as 'unsinkable', the horrific complacency reflected in the dearth of lifeboats, and its shocking adherence to the class system. This has proved to be an enduring source of inspiration for authors, playwrights and filmmakers across the globe, who have fuelled people's fascination with the story and the lives of those who perished and survived. It's no surprise, then, that there continue to be Titanic enthusiasts across all age groups, whether serious academics or fans of the imagery it evokes. Will the term Titanorak now prove to be equally enduring, or will it sink into oblivion as quickly as the vessel did in 1912?

Background – Titanorak

The term Titanorak has been around for a few years, but recently gained prominence thanks to its use by UK author and screenwriter Julian Fellowes, who wrote a TV drama series about the Titanic timed to coincide with the centenary and which aired on British TV in March/April 2012. It's a blend of the proper noun Titanic (based on the adjective titanic meaning 'extremely large or powerful') and the British English noun anorak in its informal sense of 'someone who is very interested in something that most people think is boring or not fashionable'. The word anorak first came into English in the 1920s, derived from the Greenland Eskimo word anoraq, and referring to a thick waterproof jacket with a hood. The informal sense used in Titanorak first appeared in the 1980s, and relates to the anoraks worn by 'trainspotters', who came to be regarded as a typical example of someone who is obsessively interested in something that most other people think is boring. Anorak in this sense has rather negative overtones, conjuring up images of unattractive individuals, usually male, with unappealing personalities. Though Titanorak was quickly seized upon by the media as a catchy way to characterize Titanic enthusiasts when reporting on events connected with the centenary, the negative connotations of anorak have meant that the term has had a mixed reception amongst those who have a more serious interest in the topic.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 23rd April 2012.

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