Word Fugitives


In July a reader sought "a term for a smell that you recognize but can't place." As was mentioned in the October issue, word fugitives for all kinds of things elicit plays on déjà vu. Sure enough, this time the most popular suggestion was déjà pew and variants thereof. (Several correspondents wanted to know whether to write it pew or P.U. or phew or some other way. Take your pick: there is no expert consensus on the word's etymology or spelling. Indeed, if you have antiquarian leanings, feel free to spell it pugh, the way Samuel Johnson's Dictionary of 1755 did.) However, the smell we wanted to describe wouldn't necessarily elicit a cry of pew, since it isn't necessarily unpleasant. The same objection applies to such other submissions as indistinkt, stinkling, and stinkognito (each sent in by more than one person); oddoriferous, from Edward Klein, of Aventura, Florida; and odolorous, from Mark Stitham, of Kailua, Hawaii.

The opposite objection applies to the brainchild of Joseph Clonick, of Chicago, who wrote, "It's known that many of those tantalizing smells are eventually recognized to have their origins in early-childhood experiences. So I think it appropriate to group them together as schnozztalgia." Ditto for what Michelle Gonzalez Valdez, of San Antonio, Texas, wrote: "Sometimes you just get a little scentimental."

Furthermore, have you noticed that none of these words is a term for the smell itself? Some additional suggestions that share this flaw, although they otherwise have their merits, are smellusive, amnosia, fumiliar, and on the tip of your nose. Dan Corts, of Davenport, Iowa, warned, "Aromas often conjure up strong memories. Sometimes a smell can bring about false memories—memories of an event that never occurred. This is known as olfiction." And Emily Baierl, of Lake Elmo, Minnesota, wrote, "When you detect an odor that you recognize but can't place, you could say it rings a smell."

Remini-scent was a popular idea that actually fills the relevant lexical gap. A few readers came up with abscent. And Marc A. Werlinsky, of Broomall, Pennsylvania, and Anthony Nolan, of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, came up with je ne scent quoi. But maybe the neatest and most functional solution to the problem is enigmaroma. More than one person sent in this idea, but the one who sent it first, and who therefore takes top honors, is Tom Thomsen, of Magnolia, Texas.

Another reader, who shares a job, asked Word Fugitives to help her find a better way to refer to her co-worker than "the lady I job-share with." Aaron Weinert, of Boston, began his response, unkindly, "I suppose if you are both slackers … ," and William F. Kittredge, of Ocean City, New Jersey, began his, "Unfortunately, from what I see going on today …" Both Weinert and Kittredge were on their way to explaining the same coinage: co-shirker. Peter Howland, of Bethel, Connecticut, took a more positive attitude and suggested co-efficient.

A number of people proposed partner in time and paymate. Andrew Friede, of Atlanta, came up with colaborator. Lucy Duhon, of Toledo, Ohio, suggested "alter ergo (from the Greek ergon, meaning 'work')."

An especially promising line of thought involved variants on doppelgänger, such as doppelworker, doppelgigger, and doppeljobber. But the variant that people (at least people who know what a doppelgänger is) would be most likely to understand if you said it is probably jobbelgänger. For being the first to submit this coinage, Lynn Reilly, of Seattle, takes top honors.

Now Anna Baldwin, of Arlee, Montana, writes, "I'd like a word for that time of half sleep when one thinks of the solution to a problem or some creative notion to implement the next day. The solution or idea is nearly always stellar, even in the light of day."

And Peggy Bidé, of Mbabane, Swaziland, writes, "I have been searching for a word to describe a situation that frequently occurs in our house. I recently informed our children that I would write to ask you for assistance. As a parent is frantically preparing supper, at least one and sometimes all the kids will continually ask when supper will be ready, because they say they are hungry. When supper is indeed ready and suppertime is called, no child appears and the person preparing the meal has to practically shout and beg the kids to get to the table."

Send words that meet Anna Baldwin's or Peggy Bidé'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 December 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 Mission to America: A Novel, by Walter Kirn; 1491, by Charles C. Mann; and my own Word Fugitives.

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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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