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The Atlantic Monthly | December 2001
 
Word Fugitives

by Barbara Wallraff
 

he responses to the July/August request for "a word for an object that works only if one employs a trick known to its owner or frequent user" were all over the map, in both senses of that expression. Some readers suggested eponyms—in particular, the likes of fonzie, fonzable, and fonzer, all intended to evoke "the Fonz," Henry Winkler's character in the sitcom Happy Days, because of his ability to get the jukebox to work by giving it a whack.

Evelin Sullivan, of Redwood City, California, who had asked for help in finding this word fugitive in the first place, wrote again to propose a coinage: jigglit. A couple of people suggested fussgadget. Bob Israel, of Westford, Massachusetts, proposed computer, explaining, "I've never seen one that didn't require regular trickery to keep it going." Several people proposed wife, husband, or spouse.

Neologisms beginning with thingama- were popular—for instance, thingamajiggler and thingamabobject. Ones beginning with idio- were more popular still, arriving from as far away as Karachi, Pakistan. Michael Mates, an officer at the U.S. Consulate General there, submitted idiosynpractical. Nifty word, but we were looking for a noun. Other readers sent in idiosecretic, idiopathetic, idiosymatic, and—hooray, some nouns!—idiosyncrathing and idiosyncontraption. Top honors go to Arun Shankar, of York, Pennsylvania, for thinking along these lines but thinking a bit more, well, idiosyncretically than most, to arrive at idiosynamajig.

In response to the other July/August request, for a word to describe a "fear of inadvertently throwing something valuable out with the garbage," many, many phobias arrived. Evidently the readers who sent them in suffer from neither doxophobia (fear of expressing opinions) nor neophobia (fear of anything new or novel), and some would even seem to be remarkably free of catagelophobia (fear of being ridiculed). Jacob de Jager, of Bountiful, Utah, proposed discardphobia; Yvonne R. Freund, of Portland, Oregon, the hard-to-pronounce dumphobia; Elizabeth B. Chast, of Brooklyn, New York, the Francophilic jeteraphobia; and Walter F. Tanski, of Troy, New York, the Hellenologophobic (that is, evidencing a fear of Greek terms) throwawayoopsaphobia. Ivan Cooper, of Traverse City, Michigan, offered up a nice variation on the theme: phthrobia.

The apparently Hellenologophilic Crawford MacKeand, of Greenville, Delaware, proposed "the too-little-known word losthrophobia." He went on to explain, "That current editions of the standard reference works appear to have passed it over is unfortunate, as it brings with it an interesting history. Although folk etymology embraces an obvious derivation, it is of course to the classical Greek, and especially that of Homer, that we should turn for a full understanding. While Liddell & Scott's Greek-English Lexicon offers us the Attic , it is clearly to the Homeric that we should turn (A Lexicon of the Homeric Dialect, Cunliffe R. J., Blackie, London 1924). This had the well-established significance of 'most agreeable' or 'most advisable,' presumably identical to the unattested Koine word . The sense-inversion phenomenon in the English word is worthy of note, though not uncommon in derivative terminology, e.g. longshanks for a notably short person. A connection with loss, and with inadvertent discard, appears to have arisen at a relatively recent date, possibly even in our own century." Never mind that according to a recent, highly diplomatic e-mail from Samantha Schad, Ph.D., the senior assistant editor responsible for the classical component of etymologies in the Oxford English Dictionary, this account amounts to a gossamer of information laid delicately upon utter nonsense. MacKeand takes top honors.

Now CROSS G. MOORADIAN, of Troy, Michigan, writes, "Surely, at one time or another each of us has bought or received a gift that, truth be known, the giver secretly hoped to take possession of for himself. I can't think of a word for this kind of gift. Help."

And DEBORAH REDDEN, of McDonough, Georgia, writes, "A friend has a habit of taking a lovely song and changing one or two words to make it vulgar—which he thinks is funny. The next time the song is played, I 'hear' his crude version and not the actual rendition. Many of my favorite songs have been ruined in this manner. What would you call this? And is there a name for him?"

Send words that meet Cross G. Mooradian's or Deborah Redden's purposes 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 December 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 Free Flight, by James Fallows; The Truth About Dogs, by Stephen Budiansky; and Drowning Ruth by Christina Schwarz.

What do you think? Discuss this article in Post & Riposte.


Copyright © 2001 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; December 2001; Word Fugitives; Volume 288, No. 5; 152.