Word Fugitives


In October a reader in Kingston, Washington, requested a word for "the reflection of moonlight on water and the way it follows you as you are walking down the beach or a dock." Her congressman, Jay Inslee, promptly sent in four original coinages, including the more-than-serviceable term emoontional attachment. How's that for responsive representation?

Other readers, including JESSE SHEIDLOWER, an editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, reported that the word requested already exists: moonglade. Sheidlower wrote, "It's very rare, and it tends to appear mostly in lists of words for things you didn't know there were words for. But it is used for real." Dan Schechter, of Los Alamitos, California, argued for a different word that he already knew. He wrote, "Mariners sometimes call the moving path of light leading to the moon the moonwake, because it looks like the white wash of a ship's wake."

Duly noted. But let's check out some shiny new coinages too.

ANDREAS CONNAL-NICOLAOU, of Preston, Connecticut, wrote, "Being a paranoid person, I have always looked over my shoulder and wondered why moonlight would follow me as I walk along the beach at night." Thus he (among other readers) proposed luna-sea.

HUGH MCCLINTOCK, of Conneautville, Pennsylvania, made up two words—and a Native American language. He wrote, "Mondstrahlbleichfolgenimmerwandererufer leaps to mind as a wonderfully apt, self-defining German neologism for friendly waterborne moon rays. True, it's a tad long, but the charm of Teutonic eloquence easily makes up for the length.

"And the Senecas have a flashy word meaning 'moon ray on water that tracks brave,' but it's in an untranslatable sign language. Alas, if only I could pass it along."

Moonglade or moonwake is surely the word to use for real. But in recognition of his droll sense of humor, let's award McClintock top honors anyway.

In October another reader wanted a term "to describe the burned bit of skin on the roof of your mouth" that you get when you bite into a too-hot pizza. Once again experts weighed in. Barbara Ravage, of Orleans, Massachusetts, wrote, "In my book Burn Unit: Saving Lives After the Flames, I call this burn a pizza peel (pun intended)." HALLEY S. FAUST, M.D., of West Hartford, Connecticut, wrote, "Mark Dembert, M.D., and I published a letter to the editor of the Journal of the American Dental Association in 1984 that described pizza palate." Other readers submitted pizza palate as well, some of whom said they'd been using the term for years. Whether they learned it from their dentists, and the dentists learned it from Faust and Dembert, will never be known.

KATE DREHER, of Davis, California, extrapolated from pizza to other too-hot foods. She wrote, "The chances are much higher than one in six that I'll end up with a rushing ruelette on the roof of my mouth when I can't overcome the urge to sample a freshly baked batch of cookies!" Gary Eschman, of Santa Fe, came up with another word that would work for the result of biting into anything too hot: palatite, derived from palate and stalactite.

BILL KAPP, of Houston, reported, "I've always called this a pizza hangover." Top honors, however, go to CHARLES HARRINGTON ELSTER, of San Diego, for his coinage pizzaster.

Now STEVE MIDGLEY, of San Rafael, California, writes, "I am looking for a word to describe a kind of typographical error: hitting a function key by mistake while typing on a computer. All the typing after that point causes the computer to start taking insane actions that I don't want."

And TOM GAMMARINO, of Forest Hills, New York, writes, "I keep finding myself looking for a word that means nostalgia for a time when I wasn't alive—a kind of wistful projection."

Send words that meet Steve Midgley's or Tom Gammarino's needs to Word Fugitives, The Atlantic Monthly, P.O. Box 67375, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467, or visit the Word Fugitives page on our Web site, at www.theatlantic.com/fugitives. Submissions must be received by March 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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