Word Fugitives

In March we asked for “a word to de­scribe a kind of typographical error: hitting a function key by mistake while typing on a computer,” thereby causing the computer to “start taking insane actions.” The standard arrangement of computer or typewriter keys is, of course, called qwerty, after the sequence of letters at the upper left of the keyboard. Hence Thomas Fowler, of Lake Jackson, Texas, wrote, “When you accidentally hit a function key while typing on a computer, it almost always makes the computer behave disqwerty­ously.” Susan Chilton, of Kitchener, Ontario, sug­gested the term qwer-key keyboarding, and Amanda Petrucelli, of Plymouth, Ind., qwertastrophe. Computers assign nu­merical values to letters following the American Standard Code for Information Interchange, or ASCII. Hence John Ciccarelli, of Palo Alto, Calif., wrote, “Ah, you mean when everything you type from then on looks somehow asciiew, causing a feeling of disqwertytude? I believe the term is numb lock.”

Jerry Schoen, of New Salem, Mass., sur­mised that the reader who originally asked for the word “inadvertently invoked a flub-routine.” Quintin J. Maltby, of Toronto, Ontario, thought that “he must have accidentally hit the Defeat key.” John Scott, of Kensington, Md., suggested, “How about saying ‘Whoops, I hit a misfunction key.’” And Chris Rooney, of Berkeley, Calif., wrote, “Since I am known to swear when I mistakenly hit a function key, I suppose that typographical error would best be described as a pre-curser.

Mark Brice, of Austin, Texas, shared some actual computer-speak: fat fingering the keyboard. He wrote, “That’s certainly not a coinage—I’ve spent 23 years working with and on computers and I’ve heard this one often.” The Computer Desktop Encyclopedia confirms Brice’s information, explaining that fat finger “refers to accidentally pressing the wrong key on a keyboard and entering an erroneous command that causes a serious problem.” The Web site Word Spy points out that one can also fat finger a telephone keypad, resulting in fat finger dialing—which is either “a telephone scam in which a company sets up a toll number that is one digit different than a popular number, so that the company earns money when customers accidentally mis-dial the legitimate number” or “mis-dialing a phone number in this manner.”

But we digress. Kathleen DeBold, of Burtonsville, Md., takes top honors. She wrote, “Hitting the function key on a computer by mistake can cause mass destruction of the document you’re working on. That’s why it is classified as cyber errorism.”

The other March request was for “a word that means nostalgia for a time when I wasn’t alive.” This put more than a few readers in mind of the poem “Miniver Cheevy,” by Edwin Arlington Robinson. (Sample verse: “Miniver loved the days of old / When swords were bright and steeds were prancing; / The vision of a warrior bold / Would set him dancing.”) Thus were coined the likes of mischeevyousness (by Arthur Saltzman, of Joplin, Mo.) and cheevery, cheevish, and cheevement (all by Bruce L. Bush, of Highland Park, N.J.).

Joan Biddle, of New York City, wrote, “I often feel this; I think it’s very real! The word I would use is reincarniscence, a fusion of reincarnation and reminiscence.” Richard Ulyate, of Torrance, Calif., called what we’re looking for “an interest in the prenaissance, which, for example, might be the Beatles for some and Teddy Roosevelt for others.” More than one person proposed notstalgia and wistful thinking. Lauren Lilly, of Boise, Idaho, proposed histfulness; Tom Linde, of Seattle, Wash., proposed antedelusian; Dave Warshaw, of Annapolis, Md., halcyonation; Charles Browne, of Peacham, Vt., preposterity; and Aaron Riccio, of New York City, precedentimental.

These are swell, but they don’t quite get the point across. Diane P. Genereux, of Seattle, Wash., takes top honors for her lucid coinage chronderlust.

Now Larry Herbst, of Pasadena, Calif., writes, “As a relatively new parent, I find myself groping for a word that describes the mass of items required for the simplest outing with a newborn: extra diapers, wipes, toys, playpen, baby carrier, etc. Whereas we used to be able to just hop in the car and go, we now have to gather an amazing amount of clutter.”

And Kathy Law, of Casablanca, Morocco, writes, “There ought to be a word for the tendency my father-in-law has to buy much more produce at the farmers’ market than he could ever eat.”

Send words that meet Larry Herbst’s or Kathy Law’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 August 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 To Hell With All That, by Caitlin Flanagan; Guests of the Ayatollah, by Mark Bowden; and my own Word Fugitives.

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