What does the word ‘chelonian’ mean?

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: chelonian…

It doesn’t take much to persuade me to read a memoir. But make the main character a writer who’s exploring a different line of work and I’ll drop what I’m doing to read that book right away.

Such is the memoir Uncanny Valley.  The book tells the improbable (but true) story of Anna Wiener’s transformation from Manhattan-based literary agency worker to big-data toiler. Facing near poverty in book publishing, Wiener left New York for Silicon Valley where she worked with young, male entrepreneurs determined to make their fortunes.

Her story is both fascinating and depressing although it contains a happy ending. She left the industry and currently works for the New Yorker as their tech correspondent.

Her book also gave me my word of the week, chelonian. Here is how she used it:

Within a few years, the founder, a chelonian ex-hedge funder, would become the wealthiest person in the world and undergo a montage-worthy makeover.

One of the amusing conceits of the book is that she never mentions anyone (famous) by their real name — ditto for their companies. She term for Airbnb, for example, is: “the millennial-friendly platform for renting strangers’ bedrooms.”

In the quote above, she’s clearly referring to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. But chelonian was a new word to me. I looked up the word but my husband, who has a bachelor’s degree in Zoology would have been able to tell me that it’s a reptile in the turtle, terrapin, or tortoise family.

I assume she’s trying to suggest that Bezos was either slow or lazy. While I’m no fan of Bezos, I’m not sure that adjective accurately describes him. (I’d be more inclined to opt for “controlling” or “entitled.”)

After Bezos graduated from Princeton University in 1986, he first worked at Fitel, a fintech telecommunications start-up. From there, he moved to the banking industry when he became a product manager at Bankers Trust. Then, he joined D. E. Shaw & Co, a newly-founded hedge fund  and worked there until 1994. He became the company’s fourth senior vice-president at the age of 30.

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