Word Fugitives


In the July/August issue, we sought a catchall term for the heap of stuff new parents suddenly find themselves toting around along with their baby. As it turns out, many parents already have their own words for this. For instance, Dennis Fortier, of Laguna Niguel, Calif., wrote, “In my home, we refer to these items as parentphernalia.” In fact, dozens of readers suggested that word. However, a few mentioned it in order to explain why, after it came to mind, they ruled it out. James Olski, of Appleton, Wis., presented the usual objection succinctly. Parentphernalia unfortunately seemed to grasp the concept from the wrong end,” he wrote, adding, “Wouldn’t parentphernalia include vodka?” Readers of a similar turn of mind suggested alternatives such as babyphernalia, pedephernalia, heir­aphernalia, pueriphernalia, and paraphernatalia.

Clare Conway, of Arlington, Mass., wrote, “We always called it our baby safari, but on the face of it, this phrase looks like we were hunting babies.” Sean Conboy, of San Francisco, and a new father, suggested postpartum possessions. James Wunsch, of Iron­­de­quoit, N.Y., had not only a word but also a procedure to suggest. He wrote, “Bitter experience—many trips back home to fetch a favorite rattle or medicine du jour—prompted us to create, and religiously use, a ‘preflight checklist.’ This process gave us confidence, peace of mind, and greater family harmony. Though our daughters (now two and five) require less and less luggage per trip, we continue to verify our infantory before pulling out of the driveway.”

Some other promising terms were bairnecessities, child splay, impedimenta (with or without a hyphen and a second p after imp), kid and caboodle, and mother load. But Joan A’Hearn, of Saratoga Springs, N.Y., takes top honors for her unique coinage adinfantitems.

Also requested was a word for the tendency to overbuy produce at the farmers’ market—something the woman who asked for the word said her father-in-law did. Irwin Walkenfeld, of Highland Park, N.J., wrote, “So I’m not the only one who cannot restrain himself from overbuying produce. When I go to the market, I gobananas.” Other ideas inspired by specific kinds of produce included appletite, overcornsumption, overdill, overkale, and economy of kale. Mary Jane McKinven, of Washington, D.C., wrote, “The malady should be called berry-berry.”

Rachel Hopkins, of Earlysville, Va., reported, “When our family buys more veggies than necessary, we call it unveg­essary.” Tim McBride, of Cary, N.C., warned, “If you buy too much produce, you’ll get caught up in a rot race.” Chris Lazzarino, of Lawrence, Kan., took a similar point of view, writing, “If I bought too much beautiful produce, which surely would spoil before I could eat it, I fear I would suffer from the melancholy of buyers remorsel.”

Refreshingly, Bill Parks, of Covington, Va., has the tendency but lacks any compunctions about it. This condition is called hypervegetating,” he wrote. “It makes us old guys feel both alive and necessary.” A similarly unapologetic coinage earns top honors for Drew and Pamela Elicker, of Port Townsend, Wash.: shoptimism.

Now Gerry Poster, of Greenville, S.C., writes: “I’m seeking a word to describe the sort of intense and absolute skill or knowledge that is required to operate something technological (such as a computer program, PDA, DVD player, or digital camera) and that will become worthless when a newer program or machine is sold. This is as compared with such tech-independent skills as reading, computation, and reasoning, whose value is more or less permanent.”

And Hallie Fivecoat, of Fort Benning, Ga., writes, “I would like a word for the compulsion to imitate peculiar noises. Actually, my husband would like a word for this, so the next time I do it—such as when I try to imitate a birdcall or really squeaky brakes on a truck—and it doesn’t occur to me that we’re in public, he can tell me in very specific terms to stop.”

Send words that meet Gerry Poster’s or Hallie Fivecoat’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 December 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 Blind Into Baghdad, by James Fallows; Presidential Doodles, text by David Greenberg; 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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