Word Fugitives


What would be “a word for that time of half sleep when one thinks of the solution to a problem” or the like? This challenge, when it was presented in December, practically invited readers to experiment with it as an alternative to counting sheep. “As I was dozing off last night,” Penny Dunham, of Allentown, Pennsylvania, wrote, “I realized that I was engaged in a rest-creational activity.” Jason Eberhart-Phillips, of Dunedin, New Zealand, reported he was half asleep when ennightenment came to him. Laura I. Maniglia, of Branford, Connecticut, wrote, “After reading the column last evening, I fell asleep; I thought of indreamious and indreamuity upon awaking this morning.” And Katherine F. Larsen, of El Dorado, California, wrote, “When I awoke at 6:20 this morning, I wrote down fourteen possibilities,” among them daybreakthrough.

Ed Flanagan, of Ormond Beach, Florida, also solves problems during what he calls temporeverie, but he complained, “When I’m fully awake, I can’t remember the important details.” Others know something he could try: Mohamed Kamara, of Lexington, Virginia, who coined dozepiphany, wrote, “I’ve developed the habit of having a pen and paper always close to my bed.” Tann H. Hunt, of Tallahassee, Florida, who coined sleeplution, uses a pen and Post-its. Richard Stanco, of Brookfield, Connecticut, who coined somnolution, includes a small flashlight in his bedside kit.

Because the existing word hypnagogic means “of, relating to, or occurring in the state of intermediate consciousness preceding sleep,” and hypnopompic means “of or relating to the partially conscious state that precedes complete awakening from sleep,” many people came up with hyp- coinages. Among these were hypnagogignosis and hypnopompignosis (both from Mark Doescher, of Seattle), hypknowsis (Craig Buschmann, of Salt Lake City), hypnagogic suggestion (Ryan Walton, of Boston), hypnosynthesis (Jonathan Gellman, of the Bronx, New York), and hypnologic (Chuck Barton, of East Greenwich, Rhode Island).

Sleepiphany was the coinage most often proposed. Clever, but this word—along with most of the previous ones—has a crucial flaw. A sleepiphany would be the solution a person dreams up, not the time of half sleep that we wanted a name for. Karen Scott, of Austin, Texas, took the requested tack. She wrote, “I like to call the time between sleeping and waking, when the best ideas occur, getting forty thinks.” Cathy Capozzoli, of Kapaa, Hawaii, wrote, “Have you thought of calling the precious time between asleep and awake snorkeling? You are just below the surface, so what you may see is different from what you may see just above.”

Top honors go to Dale Beames, of Deerfield Beach, Florida, for a word that does double duty: twilightenment. It’s apt for the time of half sleep—and as a bonus, it can also mean a solution arrived at during this time, as so many people seemed to want the coinage to do.

Also in December a reader wanted a word for the situation in which children say they’re hungry and ask when supper will be ready, and then have to be nagged to come to the table. Thomas Zappala, of Needham, Massachusetts, and Martin Pietrucha, of State College, Pennsylvania, thought the children must have vamished; Gerry Balsley, of Corinth, Texas, that they famoosed.

Words proposed for this fugitive often came in pairs. Barbara Springer, of Cloudcroft, New Mexico, wrote, “My mother, who was married four times, complained that all her husbands acted in the manner described, and she had a name for it: whining and dining. However, children were not allowed to whine and dine; if they tried, it was called just plain misbehavior and treated as such.” Graham Warren, of New Haven, Connecticut, looked at the situation from the point of view of the children and came up with chide and hide. Clare Broyles, of Phoenix, wrote, “My kids often do the same, and I would term it (since they are kids, after all) bleat and run.” Who could top that? No one did: Broyles takes top honors.

Now DEBRA FARRINGTON, of Hershey, Pennsylvania, writes: My husband is a pack rat; he keeps everything. I am just the opposite. There is no word, however, for the opposite of a pack rat. What would we call people who are good at letting go of possessions, rather than keeping things in case they might— decades from now—need them again?”

And TONY WOODLIEF, of Wichita, Kansas, writes: “I need a term for that delicious property in some relationships that allows two people who haven’t spoken in years to simply dive into conversation as if they’ve not been apart.”

Send words that meet Debra Farrington’s or Tony Woodlief’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 May 31. Use the same addresses to submit word fugitives that you’d like The Atlantics 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 To Hell With All That, by Caitlin Flanagan; Guests of the Ayatollah, by Mark Bowden; 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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