Word Fugitives


Dispute erupted in the Word Fugitives mailbag regarding an appropriate tenor for "a word for people who send e-mail messages and then follow them up saying, 'Did you get my e-mail message?'"—one of the word fugitives sought in February.

"I take issue with the blatant attack on those of us who send follow-up e-mails," wrote Andrew Goldberg, of New York City. Cheryl Scott Ryan, of Austin, Texas, wrote, "Our recent office move has not been kind to our outgoing e-mail, so I feel a need to make sure all my e-mails make it to their intended recipients." Ryan, among many others, proposed the bias-free term re-mailers to describe people like her.

Suzanne Lanoue, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, advised, "They may be doing it for a good reason, such as that it is an important matter to them and you didn't answer them in good time." She continued, "How about a word for people who never read their e-mail? Or a word for people who never answer it? And what about for those self-centered people who reply to your e-mail but don't answer any of your questions or don't make comments about anything you said?"

Other readers, however, heaped scorn on the e-mailers who follow up, suggesting such unflattering terms as cybores (coined by Marjory Wunsch, of Cambridge, Massachusetts), confirmaniacs (Sheridan Manasen, of Kennebunk, Maine), memorons (Phil Ruder, of Forest Grove, Oregon), and e-diots (proposed by several people). Mitchell Burnside Clapp, of Los Olivos, California, wrote, "I suggest NetWit, with the irregular capitalization appropriate to the computer age. I think a hideous neologism is needed to describe the hideous reality."

John G. Keresty, of Vernon, New Jersey, shared an observation about a similar behavior in a different realm. He wrote, "Years ago I was in the sportswriting business, and I found that every coach of any sport at any level would repeat short instructions or exhortations thus: 'Let's go get 'em, let's go get 'em'; 'Good job, Keresty, good job'; 'Hey, ref, hey, ref! Are you blind? Are you blind?' and so on, and so on. So for the quest for a word for e-mail follow-uppers, I give you the one I coined for all the double-speak coaches: redundunces." For making the connection and cleverly adapting his coinage (one also submitted by other readers), Keresty takes top honors. Keresty takes top honors.

P.S. To all those readers who sent follow-up e-mails or letters cheekily asking whether we'd received your first communications, Yes, we did, thanks!

The other word fugitive sought in February was one "for those periods in which every little thing that can go wrong does." The responses were rife with references to Murphy's Law (usually stated as "Anything that can go wrong will," though sometimes expressed in terms of the inevitability that falling toast will land buttered side down). Murph, murphase, and Murphy moment were among the many suggestions received.

J. Robert Lennon, of Ithaca, New York, came up with chagrinterval; Charles Memminger, of Honolulu, fluster cluster; Connie West, of Cincinnati, awry spell; and Gina Loebell, of East Windsor, New Jersey, bad err day. Two people suggested erra, and two others dayzaster. Ilan Kinsley, of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, came up with an entire week's worth of possibilities: "Mournday, Bluesday, Winceday, Curseday, Frightday, and, of course, the Bleakend." Jennifer Lewis, of New Orleans, wrote, "A natural-born klutz, I tend to regularly experience the phenomenon described. Sometimes my life seems one big, bumbling calamitime."

But perhaps the most productive line of thought was karma combinations. For instance, Chris Nauyokas, of Chicago, suggested karmageddon. And taking top honors is Miko Dwarkin, of Calgary, Alberta, for her right-on-target neologism karmaclysm.

Now Mike Davis, of Albuquerque, New Mexico, writes, "We have so many verbs to describe the things we do with our faces: smile, smirk, frown, etc. Is there a verb to describe the raising of the eyebrows and turning down of the mouth to signify that one is impressed?"

And Scott Buffett, of Bedford, New Hampshire, writes, "If language organizes experience, then please give me a word or phrase for the frantic period of time many families experience each morning prior to leaving home."

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Visit Barbara Wallraff’s blog, at barbarawallraff .theatlantic.com, to see more commentary on language and to submit Word Fugitive queries and words that meet David K. Prince’s need. Readers whose queries are published and those who take top honors will receive an autographed copy of Wallraff’s most recent book, Word Fugitives. More

Barbara WallraffBarbara Wallraff, a contributing editor and columnist for The Atlantic, has worked for the magazine for 25 years. She is also a weekly syndicated newspaper columnist for King Features and the author of Word Fugitives (2006), Your Own Words (2004), and the national best-seller Word Court (2000). Her writing about language has appeared in The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Wilson Quarterly, The American Scholar, and The New York Times Magazine.

Wallraff has been an invited speaker at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, the National Writers Workshop, the Nieman Foundation, Columbia Journalism School, the British Institute Library of Florence, and national or international conventions of the American Copy Editors Society, the Council of Science Editors, the International Education of Students organization, and the Journalism Education Association. She has been interviewed about language on the Nightly News With Tom Brokaw and dozens of radio programs including Fresh Air, The Diane Rehm Show, and All Things Considered. National Public Radio's Morning Edition once commissioned her to copy edit the U.S. Constitution. She is a member of the American Heritage Dictionary Usage Panel. The Genus V edition of the game Trivial Pursuit contains a question about Wallraff and her Word Court column.

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