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The term is currently in the news because of a dispute between the Italian government and the Vatican over the intensity of the signal from Vatican Radio. Rome’s expansion means that the area around the transmitters, almost unpopulated 50 years ago, now has some 100,000 inhabitants. The Vatican, a sovereign state, allows itself higher field strengths from transmitters than does Italy. Though this dispute has publicised the term, it has actually been around for some time, in a relatively specialist way, to refer to the sea of electromagnetic radiation from broadcast and mobile telephone transmitters in which we involuntarily bathe. Back in 1996, a firm in Durham, North Carolina, responding to concerns about the health implications of such radiation, manufactured a cybercap out of metallic fabric that was supposed to shield the wearer from the electrosmog, so described, that was given off by wireless networks.

Angered by constant references in the Italian media to “electrosmog” coming from his radio station, Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican Radio’s director of programmes, said in a statement: “We consider it immoral to foment unjust accusations and cause alarm in the population”.

New Scientist, Apr. 2001

Environment Minister Willer Bordon has told the Vatican to either reduce electromagnetic transmissions by two-thirds or face a blackout. He says “electrosmog” from the radio’s powerful transmission towers is causing high levels of cancer and other problems among residents who live near them.

USA Today, Apr. 2001

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 19 May 2001

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/turnsofphrase/tp-ele3.htm
Last modified: 19 May 2001.