When Roberto De Vido brought this word to my attention, the first thing I thought was, Floating hotel? But then I thought, Well, wait, that might not be it. After all, a cartel isn’t a cart hotel, and there are other words with el endings that trace back to Germanic diminutive forms. Gunsel, for instance (more recently more often used for gunslingers, but originally from a Yiddish word for “little goose” and roughly synonymous with catamite).
And anyway, floatel has such a close resemblance to floater, which has a variety of associations, many of which unappealing (whether it be those bits of errant crap that sometimes may wander through your eyeball, or some bit of food spotted in a beverage, or any of several less savoury things), who would really want to apply it to a hotel? And the other blend with hotel that comes to mind is of course motel (from motor hotel), a type of accommodation which has successfully avoided the luxury niche or any sort of upscale associations.
Well, here’s the sentence in which Roberto spied it, from cnn.com:
He said the company now has about 30 aircraft searching for signs of oil and has moved more than 300 people of offshore “floatels” to speed up its response time.
(I think of offshore… is supposed to be to offshore…). So, but wait, there are hotels just floating about in the Gulf of Mexico like spare squid or algae? Well, the OED helps clarify: while the first definition is “A floating hotel, or one built over water; spec. a boat operating as a hotel,” it adds “Also used of the accommodation blocks for workers on off-shore drilling rigs.” I suspect there may have been some irony – or its opposite, marketing – in the use of the term for rig accommodations, which probably don’t feature chocolates on pillows and triangled toilet paper.
But there are some floatels that likely do feature those niceties of fancy hotels. And I don’t mean cruise ships, since they might not count (as they don’t stay put), although I can tell you the Queen Mary 2 does feature chocolates on your pillow and toilet paper that has been put back to a point practically every time you go to use your washroom. Rather, I am put in mind of such as the creatively (not) named Floatel in Calcutta, India (located at an address made for tapdancing: Kolkata Jetty), or the Bakkara and Faraon floatels in Kiev. Or any of many built since the 1950s, when the word first appeared. Not the Floatel in Northwich, England, though – it was demolished last year.
So while at first I thought this word might refer to some kind of jetsam, it seems it may more readily feature the jet set. And why not? Float anagrams to aloft. True, floatel also anagrams to fall toe and oat fell, and to folate with an l left over. But those might relate to a spa that surely must be on board one or more of these, which would be suitable given that hotel roots in medieval Latin hospitale (which formed first hostel and from that hotel).
On the other hand, there’s probably no spa on the oil rig floatels. Just a guess, but…