Contents | May 2003
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The Atlantic Monthly | May 2003
f the suggested answers to one of December's Word Fugitives requests included audiots, cellfish, cellots, cellulouts, earheads, earitants, incellferables, imbecells, jabberwonks, and phonies, what was the question?
by Barbara Wallraff
Why, it was what to call people "who seem to have a cell phone glued to one of their ears." In the past Word Fugitives has reckoned with people whose habits are truly unsavory—for instance, changing song lyrics to make them obscene, or screaming at other drivers when behind the wheel of a car—and in every case at least a few respondents have risen to the defense of the people in question. Not this time.
Russ Newsom, of Charlotte, North Carolina, suggested the word phoneglommer but, rather than explaining that, recounted this tale: "I was involved in a car accident, and one man, the cause, was cut on his forehead. I approached his car and, trying to remember my Red Cross training, said simply, 'Are you okay?' He was in his front seat, bleeding profusely. He continued talking on his phone and held out one forefinger to me—the 'Hold on one second' gesture."
Jim Castrone, of Westminster, Colorado, told this story: "Recently my daughter persuaded an entire commuter bus full of people to pose, cell phones to their ears, for an impromptu group picture as part of a project for her college photography class. The result was an extraordinary photo of people doing something that has become so commonplace it almost parodied itself. The reality was that only a small handful of people actually heard and responded to her spur-of-the-moment request. The rest were already on their phones and pre-posed."
And that hints at what was so strange about the overall response to this question: we've met the enemy and it is us. Brian Flanagan, of Boston, came about as close as anyone to expressing solidarity with cell-phone users: "An appropriate word to describe these people, whose chatter we resent and yet whose ranks we are all too ready to join when our own cell phones ring, might be cell mates, conveying that we're all pretty efficiently imprisoned in this cellular world."
But, of course, we do resent others' loud, public chatter, and the word requested was meant to reflect that. Taking top honors here is Tim Weiner, of Mexico City, for his coinage yakasses.
Readers were evidently less inspired by the other December Word Fugitives request, for a word comparable to gesundheit to say to people who have just coughed. Olivia B. Snyder, of Philadelphia, wrote, "My grandmother always said (still does) ooga booga. Neither my mother nor I know why." Leo Schulte, of Toledo, Ohio, suggested, "Since Saint Blaise is the patron saint of throat ailments, how about Blaise you!" Nancy Ashmore, of Portsmouth, Rhode Island, wrote, "I work with children, and here is what I say to coughers all the time: Please cover your mouth."
James Hilton, of Englewood, Colorado, gave it his best shot. He wrote, "After someone coughs, you could say geslungenaus, meaning, 'Please stop—if you keep doing that, you're going to cough up your lungs.' You could say gesbaggenheit, meaning, 'Here, put this bag over your head if you plan to keep doing that.' You could say gessockenstuffen, meaning, 'Keep that up and I'm going to have to gag you.' You could say geskoffenmitschooten, meaning, 'I'm sorry, but if you keep doing that, I'll have to put you out of your misery.' You could say gesfatigenwheezin, meaning ..."
Well, I have to award top honors to someone, so they go to Suzanne Ellison, of Annapolis, Maryland. She wrote, "My Neapolitan grandfather had a 'blessing' to offer a cougher, and it has a nice touch of fatalism: 'Sper'e c'o purmone soje fatiche e ch' essa nun more.' It translates, roughly, 'I hope you have some lung left and don't die.'"
Now Jeff M. Sellers, of Glen Ellyn, Illinois, writes, "Being able to name my problem may be half the battle. Is there a word for a fear of running over squirrels?"
And Paul von Hippel, of Columbus, Ohio, writes, "Is there a word for the common experience of saying something to your child and then realizing—often with a shock—that you sound like one of your own parents?"
Send words that meet Jeff Sellers's or Paul von Hippel's needs to Word Fugitives, The Atlantic Monthly, 77 North Washington Street, Boston, MA 02114, 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 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 The Pleasures of Slow Food, by Corby Kummer, and Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market, by Eric Schlosser.
Copyright © 2003 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; May 2003; Word Fugitives; Volume 291, No. 4; 144.