Budtenders vs. biketenders

Originally published Jul 31, 2015

This is a bona fide Seattle pot shop (with a food truck out front, obvi). It has real budtenders inside.

Two recent neologisms based on the word bartender will be bandied about in Seattle this weekend, and The Name Inspector believes that comparing them might yield some interesting insights.

The new words are budtender and biketender.

A budtender is someone who works in a marijuana store or medical marijuana dispensary, helping people select the right kind of marijuana for them. The Name Inspector happens to live in one of the four U.S. states that have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, and Seattle now has actual pot shops, such as Uncle Ike’s, pictured above.

Seattle therefore has real live budtenders. And this weekend, it will have biketenders as well. As The Name Inspector read in GeekWire, Uber is running a promotional stunt that will have mixologists riding around town on old-fashioned bicycles (inspired by French tri-porteurs) delivering freshly mixed cocktails. These bicycling bartenders will be the so-called “biketenders” in question.

The words budtender and biketender, though similar, work differently from a linguistic point of view.

The analogy between budtender and bartender is clear. Marijuana, like alcohol, is an intoxicant, and it’s natural to put people who legally dispense either one into the same category. Perhaps more to the point from The Name Inspector’s perspective, the words bartender and budtender have the same internal logic: a bartender tends to a bar, and a budtender tends to buds.

A biketender, on the other hand, is not someone who tends bikes, but someone who tends bar on a bike. That makes the word biketender a different kind of neologism in which the –tender ending is playing a different role: it stands in for the whole word bartender and the specific idea it represents rather than carrying along the more general meaning of the verb tendBudtender reflects a true analogy, while biketenderis more like a blend–though it doesn’t look like one, because it can be analyzed into distinct parts that both seem to have meaning.

The Name Inspector finds budtender to be a far more satisfying coinage than biketender, precisely because it doesn’t require us to rejigger our understanding of tender. The general lesson here for all neologists (including namers) is the following: if a new word is made out of discrete meaningful parts, it’s best to preserve the meanings of those parts.

Update 2/4/2024: The Name Inspector is aware that people tend to say cannabis now rather than marijuana, but for some reason he stubbornly stuck with the old word in this post.

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