Monday 28 June 2010

On needed words

A guest appearance on BBC Radio 4's 'Saturday Live' last week has initiated a flurry of correspondence, and the only place to focus it seems to be this blog. Once again it is the ludic propensity of language that has grabbed the popular imagination - in the same way that the 'foreign catch-phrases' theme (see my last post) has done.

As always, it is a passing remark that sparks the interest. The presenter asked me whether there were lost words in the language that ought to be resuscitated. That brought to mind the examples I encountered when I was editing an edition of Dr Johnson's Dictionary a few years ago, so I mentioned one: fopdoodle, meaning a foolish dandy, or prig. Well, everyone thought it was a wonderful word - even the continuity announcer at the end of the programme, who described the producer as a fopdoodle.

And one thing leads to another. Inevitably, it was 'words that the English language needs that we don't currently have'. This is a very familiar one, for me. When I was doing English Now back in the 80s this proved to be the most popular competition of all. There was no shortage of suggestions then - I put a selection into my Language Play - and it seems there is no shortage today. Of all the suggestions in those days, the one I thought the language most needed was the word which describes my state of mind when waiting for my luggage to appear on the airport carousel. Everyone else's turns up straight away. So, one is - 'bagonizing', to my mind.

Do such words ever get into the dictionary? Some such spontaneous creations have - such as blurb, invented during a dinner party. And bagonize has 600 entries in Google now! So, who knows?

Anyway, the point of this post is to offer a location for anyone whose urge to create a new word in a language (not just English) is uncontrollable. Already my email inbox has a flood. Here's one, to illustrate. Adrian writes to say 'When I wake up in the morning my hair sometimes points upwards in a curled peak as in the cartoons of a boy detective. I have realised I suffer from tintinnitis'.


Barrie England said...

In ‘The Meaning of Liff’ , Douglas Adams and John Lloyd press place names into service to do additional duty in describing concepts for which no word exists. A few examples at random.

Deal: The gummy substance found between damp toes.

Lindisfarne: Descriptive of the pleasant smell of an empty biscuit tin.

Bude: a polite joke reserved for use in the presence of vicars.

mollymooly said...

A friend has a hypernym for niece-or-nephew: "nibling".

DC said...

It's nice to see Liff still attracting interest, as it was a brilliant idea. But I perhaps should have made it clear that I was hoping to see new material in relation to this post. Someone else has sent in that old competition list from the Washington Post (cashtration, ignoranus, and so on), which has been going the rounds for over ten years. As this is easily available online, there's no need to give it another airing here.

mollymooly said...

Most of the words in lists of this sort are both (a) jocular and (b) blends. The merit of Liff book is that it largely dispenses with (b). Even the instances that are (interpretable as) blends evince the wit of having noticed the incidental resemblance.

For me, somehow, blends are usually too cutesy to take seriously; a plain old compound ("scofflaw", "new car smell", "brain fart", "Dracula sneeze") has a solid respectable quality that inspires confidence in its staying power.

R A Harless said...

You'll have to pardon my language, but a good friend of mine introduced me to the best word ever; bumblef**k. It is an adverb(?) referring to when the person in front of you is wandering aimlessly, unaware that they are completely in your way. It can also be used as a noun referring to the person doing such.
"I was late for work this morning because people in traffic were bumblef**king around."

Douglas Carnall, @juliuzbeezer said...

There's no reason why the traffic between English and French should be all one way.

For example, un bavard is someone full of worthless talk, closely related to the feminist neologism of mansplaining, though there's no reason to suppose that over-loquacious feminists might not also be termed bavardes.

Unknown said...

Being such a frequent arbitrary creator of words and phrases I started keeping a lexicon parallel to my blog. Included are:

Goat-smuggler - Very large and bushy beard, ie. "A beard you could smuggle goats in".

Autist - a person who focuses more on equipment than imagination in the creation of art.

footstamp - something too incoherent to constitute a rant, and generally too short.

narcicyst - inflammation of the ego

horrifice - really unappealling sex hole.

DC said...

A couple of correspondents have asked if there is literature out there on this topic. A huge amount, as it happens. You'll find quite a lot under the heading of 'sniglets' - words that don't appear in the dictionary, but should (according to their originator, Rich Hall, who popularized them in the 1980s as part of a comedy series). And other authors have occasionally compiled anthologies, such as Barbara Wallraff's Fugitive Words.

martin said...

To Testiculate:

To wave ones arms about when talking bollocks

Unknown said...

Why isn't getting your own word into the dictionary one of the 101 things to do before you die? My girlfriend wasn't happy when I recently said that following my graduation I was going to go on a quest to get a word in the dictionary in a Dave Gorman style adventure... ah well...

here are a couple... yet another game i could play all day...

slaptitude - the ability to recognise when you're going to get a slap

impertitent - poor camping etiquette

flashtidious - careful about nakedness

My mum always says bad things come in threes... Surely this concept should be known as 'triplight'.

Elizabeth Lester said...

My fave: obnoxocity - the quality that makes one obnoxious. eg. His monologuing was the one obnoxocity I could not tolerate!

Claudia said...

I would say English needs a word for parents' brother/sister and their spouses. I suggest "auntles".

Stanley said...

To build on what mollymooly said about compounds, there is a fantastic website I discovered a few years back that randomly pairs an adjective with a noun:

Apart from being a brilliant distraction when you should be doing work, some of the combinations that pop up can fire up the imagination wonderfully. There used to be a feature that let you submit your definition, but unfortunately it hasn't been active for some time.

I expect the site is one of the simplest things to program in the world and probably dozens exist, but as distractions go it certainly keeps the imagination active!

Stanley said...

To give a couple of examples just coined by the machine:

"straightforward cloud" - a basic fluffy white one.

"content hostage" - he'd been complaining about the drudgery of his routine only that morning.

"luxury chemistry" - comes with solid gold test tubes and a diamond-encrusted Bunsen burner.

Graham said...

Long before Adams and Lloyd, the humorous - and very serious - writer Paul Jennings had written an article entitled "Ware, Wye, Watford" which did exactly the same thing. I don't know where it was first published, but I have it in a volume of his work called "The Jenguin Pennings".

EvN said...

J.K. Rowling has introduced new words into the English language, such as Muggle, which is one of a few pop culture words now in the Oxford English Dictionary.

I also found this great list of 50 pop cult sayings that are now in the dictionary – lots from TV, internet etc. I think our changing) reality naturally gives rise to changing vocab.
One I love - Mouse potato: As in: Do you spend too much time on the computer? You might be a mouse potato.

A friend of mine once used this verb “to snail”, when complaining about a partner`s behavior, as in: She was snailing around last night….Perhaps a bit too graphic – but I heard it about 15 years ago and it definitely stuck!

Anonymous said...

dysenhancement: the result of cosmetic surgery that arouses revulsion or queasiness in someone else