Word Fugitives


Last December a reader asked, "What's the word for that restless feeling that causes me to repeatedly peer into the refrigerator when I'm bored?" Robert Clark, of Austin, Texas, knows that feeling. He responded, "I often find myself revisiting the same refrigerator I left in disappointment only moments ago, as if this time the perfect snack—which I somehow managed to overlook before—will be there waiting for me. Almost invariably I find that I am suffering from a leftoveractive imagination."

Cold comfort, refrigerator magnetism, smorgasboredom, and freonnui were all popular suggestions. Jon Craig, of Del Rey Oaks, California, proposed stirvation, and Jared Paventi, of Liverpool, New York, procrastifrigeration. According to Dick Bruno, of Hackensack, New Jersey, a person in the relevant frame of mind is bored chilly. And Chris Rooney, of San Francisco, wrote, "Back in my bachelor days, when I wasn't going out with someone that night I'd head to the fridge for some expiration dating."

Then there were the brand-specific coinages, such as "the urge to play tag with the Maytag," from Marcel Couturier, of Nashua, New Hampshire; Frigistaire, from Bob Segal, of Chicago, among others; and the upscale Sub-Zero interest, from Daniel Markovitz, of New York City.

But these are getting much too fancy, don't you think? Top honors go to Allan Crossman, of Oakland, California, who was the first of many readers to propose the neat, uncomplicated coinage fridgety.

The other December fugitive sought was "a term that describes the manner in which two people who dislike each other manage to avoid acknowledgment … when their paths cross in public." Troy Bramston, of Sydney, Australia, wrote, "This is what is known as giving each other the cold shoulder." True—but what fun is that? Doug Donderi, of Toronto, Ontario, wrote, "The best word I know for this is select-a-vision. I do not take credit for this. I don't know how this word came to me—but it does the job, and I have always used it in my self-to-self vocabulary." In fact Donderi has engaged in some ingenious recycling. SelectaVision is the name of a videodisc system that RCA introduced almost a quarter of a century ago. The discs looked like silvery LPs, and contained video as well as audio.

Chris Lazzarino, of Lawrence, Kansas, apparently had no trouble getting into the spirit of this question. He wrote, "Ah, the delight in seeing and not acknowledging your spiteful, black-hearted little enemy! Few dark pleasures are more satisfying than dishing out the silent greetment." Lisa Crocker, of Springfield, Illinois, had a suggestion that, she admitted, "is more like a non-greeting." Her word is hellno.

Katie Fife, of Dallas, coined circumnavihate; Jerry Schoen, of New Salem, Massachusetts, n'approchement; Pamela Halverson, of Raleigh, North Carolina, snide-stepping; and Pat Geoghegan, of Montreal, Quebec, unanimosity. Pamela Stewart, of Grand Rapids, Michigan, wrote, "Two people avoiding each other in a social situation? Each is, to the other, a persona non greeta."

David Hochman, of Santa Monica, California, coined near-dis, and Nancy Lewkowicz, of Yellow Springs, Ohio, sneer miss. Stephen Zender, of Hudson, Wisconsin, coined proxenmity, and James H. Ballard, of West Lebanon, New Hampshire, close poxenmity, and Clela Reed, of Athens, Georgia, suggested snubterfuge, and P. Pagan, of Santa Barbara, California, snubbing their foes.

What an embarrassment of riches! But maybe the cleverest correspondent on this subject—at any rate, she who takes top honors—is Karen Sparapani, of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, who suggested can't-standoffish.

Now Deborah Ro, of Seattle, writes, "What is the word to describe the moment right before you are about to do something terribly stupid, when everything runs in slow motion as you watch hopelessly? The actions I mean include locking your keys in the car, knocking over a beverage at dinner, or inserting a stack of bills into the mailbox—along with the checks you had intended to take to the bank for deposit."

And Roger Wilson, of Roanoke, Virginia, writes, "Thin women: petite, athletic, slender. Larger women: buxom, full-figured, Rubenesque. Women in between? Medium. Not even dress shops have a flattering word for women who are just right. Please help me before I seek such a woman in a personal ad."

Send words that meet Deborah Ro's or Roger Wilson's needs to Word Fugitives, The Atlantic Monthly, 77 North Washington Street, Boston, MA 02114, or visit the Word Fugitives page on our Web site, at www.theatlantic.com/fugitives. Submissions must be received by May 31. Use the same addresses to submit word fugitives that you'd like The Atlantic's help in finding. Letters become the property of Word Fugitives and may be edited.

Readers whose queries are published and those whose words are singled out for top honors will each receive, with our thanks, a selection of recent autographed books by Atlantic authors. The next installment's correspondents will be sent Road Work, by Mark Bowden; and Privilege, by Ross Douthat; and Angry Wind, by Jeffrey Tayler.

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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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