Word Fugitives

"A problem caused by a blundering or heavy-handed attempt to cure another problem" was one of the word fugitives sought in the June Atlantic. Pat Bergeson, of Chicago, responded with boomerwrong; Joel Hess, of Portland, Oregon, with blunderang; and David Israel, of Santa Clara, California, with solut ("a little short of a solution"). Michaele Dunlap, of Lake Oswego, Oregon, coined the nice idiotrogenic, but this word is an adjective, not a noun, as requested, and the related noun form, idiotrogenesis, is far afield from any word commonly seen. M. S. Coats, of Oregon City, Oregon, deserves special mention for submitting not one but two promising words: ouchcome and oopshot.

Some readers who responded enjoyed supplementing their coinages with examples. Jim Felde, of Concord, California, mentioned "attempting to pull out a tree stump by tying a rope to the car's bumper and thereby wrenching the latter from the vehicle" in the course of proposing fixasco. Richard Leeman, of Scotts Valley, California, told a story from his childhood: "On a cold winter day in Milwaukee, when our frozen car wouldn't start, my father laid some tarred hemp (oakum) on the ground under the engine and lit it. Within a couple of minutes the entire engine was ablaze." Leeman's suggested coinage was delution—an invention so similar in pronunciation to an existing word that if spoken it would surely be misunderstood, thereby exemplifying the very problem for which a name is being sought. As it happens, this was the case with a number of suggestions received, including solvo, submitted by Andy Hirth, of Columbia, Missouri; botchulism, submitted by four readers; dissolution or dyssolution, submitted by four readers; and wrecktification, also submitted by four. Or, as Maria Rhew, of Shady Hills, Florida, explained the situation in lobbying for her coinage, "Not only is it apropos, but the potential confusion created by its pronunciation would continually contribute to the very need for its existence!" Right she is, and she takes top honors this time, for side defect.

The other fugitive sought in June was a word for "nostalgia for the future as envisioned in the past." Jimmy D. Schmidt, of Houston, responded by sending in a copy of an essay by Joris Nauwelaers that appeared last year in the medical journal The Lancet, which in turn cited a 1992 book, Die Fliegenpein, by Elias Canetti, that introduced and defined the term Eraritjaritjaka: "an archaic, poetic expression in Aranda (an aboriginal tribe in Australia), which means: 'filled with desire for something that is lost.'"

Leslie Franevsky, of Phoenix, coined the equally euphonious protofuturisticexpialidocious. This is an example of what Lewis Carroll, in Through the Looking-Glass, designated a portmanteau word: "Well, 'slithy' means 'lithe and slimy' ... You see it's like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word." Other portmanteau words coined in response to this fugitive include gee-wistfulness, from Joe Mix, of Boonsboro, Maryland; sigh-fi, from Julia Coward, of Asheville, North Carolina; O'erwellian, from Betty Sonders, of Oklahoma City; and Nineteeneightyeufouria, from Michael Blossom, of Los Angeles. The creator of yet another portmanteau word earns top honors: Peter L. Stein, of San Francisco, for his submission uhopia.

Now Michael Murphy, of Vancouver, British Columbia, writes: "What do you call it when an individual nods off for a few seconds and then jolts awake? I have observed this and also been a victim, falling asleep in a public situation only to draw attention to myself as I snap out of it as if in the electric chair. Any suggestions?"

And Tim Carr, of Atlanta, writes, "I'm a good speller, and a good typist. I'm also very good at math: I've been a professional statistician for thirty-plus years. My problem is that I'm terrible at transcribing numbers. To make a phone call, I have to put my finger on the number in the book and refer to it several times while dialing. Is there a word for my affliction?" Apparently there isn't—yet. Dyscalculia is a word, but it means "difficulty in solving math problems." And dysnumia probably shouldn't become a word, because it's too much like the medical term dysnomia, which means "difficulty in finding the right word or words." Is that what we're all experiencing just now?

Presented by

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Entertainment

More back issues, Sept 1995 to present.

Just In