Word Fugitives

Illustration by Greg Clarke

What would be a good word for things like ATMs or drugstores “that seem ubiquitous when you aren’t looking for them but that are nowhere to be found when you are”? Such was one of the fugitives requested in the May Atlantic. Brendan Moore, of Durham, N.C., wrote, “My wife and I refer to this phenomenon as every nowhere. Other things that fall into this category include gas stations, restaurants open after 10 p.m., and police cars when you see a dangerous driver.”

Neverywhere was probably the most popular suggestion. Runners-up include unbiquitous, ubiquitless, and fewbiquitous. Helen Reich, of West Melbourne, Australia, suggested ubi-quit-on-ous; and Sheila Tombe, of Lady’s Island, S.C., ubiquitisn’t. Brett Price, of Austin, Texas, proposed omnipresen’t; Patricia Peters, of East Norriton, Pa., omniabsent; and Glen Henderson, of Toronto, omnevanescent.

Among the quirkier suggestions received were vanishing points, from Terry Munson, of Pawleys Island, S.C.; ameniteases, from Chandler Fulton, of New York City; fair-weather vends, from Dan Tanner, of Bloomington, Minn.; serenmissity, from Marc Bloch, of Seattle; hydensequitous, from Bill Andrews, of Bon Air, Va.; and perversive, from Bob Lewis, of Richland, Wash. Mike Nugent, of Denver, sent in a word that was not only distinctive but also specific and relatively clear: elusiversal. Nugent takes top honors.

The other May fugitive was “a word for an attempt, using facial expressions, to make a stranger’s baby smile.” A number of readers focused on the sound effects that would go along with the smile. Carl Kay, of Tokyo, wrote, “When a long-sullen baby suddenly expresses contentment in response to the exaggerated gestures of an adult, it is called a coo de théâtre.” Shane Feldhaus, of Minne­tonka, Minn., proposed coo-ercion; Marge Kennedy, of New York City, coogling; and Jessica Chen, of Oyster Bay, N.Y., seek-a-coo.

Ted Wendt, of Modesto, Calif., wrote, “What you’re doing is, obviously, making a babyface.” Andrew Madigan, of Brooklyn, N.Y., suggested the phrase pramming it up. John Tobin, of Hampton, N.H., wrote, “Trying to make a baby laugh solely by the use of facial expressions might be called pramtomime.” Jamie Bronstein, of Las Cruces, N.M., suggested pedagoggling; Chris Rooney, of Berkeley, Calif., pediantics; Charles P. Seltman, of Divide, Colo., infantics; and Susan Teltser-Schwarz, of Scarsdale, N.Y., infantomime. Worthy ideas all, but Amanda Coutts, of Providence, R.I., takes top honors for sycoinfancy.

Now Michael McWatters, of New York City, writes, “I use a computer for the better part of my waking life, and I’ve noticed that certain repetitive keyboard tasks are making their way into my noncomputer life. For example, I recently knocked a jar off the counter, and a little voice inside yelped, Command-Z! (the keyboard shortcut for Undo). Ditto for the time I accidentally ripped a page in a book. A friend mentioned that she recently lost her keys and thought, Command-F (Find). There should be a term for this confusion, as it’s only going to become more common.”

Note to readers:

The November issue will introduce a revamped Word page, with one new fugitive in every issue, instead of the usual two in every other issue. We’ll also be adding a blog by Barbara Wallraff on the​atlantic.com, including a place where you can post your ideas for the words that fugitive-hunters are seeking.

Send words that meet Michael McWatters’s need to Word Fugitives, The Atlantic, 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 October 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, More Words That Make a Difference, by Robert and Carol Greenman; and my own Word Fugitives.

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