What Concept Most Needs a Word in the English Language?

A big question

Graham Roumieu

Lizzie Skurnick, author, That Should Be a Word

We’re in dire need of a word for the email you put off responding to because you want to give it your full attention—and thus never answer, giving the sender the impression you don’t care, when in fact it is the most important thing in your inbox.

Simon Critchley, philosopher

A concept that desperately needs a new word is when taking one’s own life includes violently taking the innocent lives of many others. Suicide by cop? Killing in order to be killed? Murder-suicide doesn’t capture this horror at all. Nor does the language of terror or degraded ideas of sacrifice and martyrdom. Will someone please find a new word for something with which we are growing all too familiar?

Graham Roumieu

Lizz Winstead, co-creator, The Daily Show

The act of staring at electronics as though we had the superpower to speed up the function they are performing. I nominate Failikinesis.

Mignon Fogarty, Grammar Girl

These days, I need a name for a social-media post I want to share but can’t because it’s been ruined by an obvious spelling or punctuation error.

Denis Boyles, author, Everything Explained That Is Explainable

The Edwardians were preoccupied with the concept of progress, which they defined as measurable, scientific, and technical. But what about a word to describe progress in areas that defy any meaningful metric, such as love or elegance or amusement or mercy?

Bryan A. Garner, author, Garner’s Modern English Usage

We need a word for the mental suffering that results from someone else’s misuse of a word or phrase in one’s presence, the distress being magnified by an abiding sense of politeness that precludes correcting the other person—coupled with an intensifying melancholy about the confused changes that so many words are undergoing as a result of mass indifference to linguistic tradition. I suggest wordschmerz.

Steven Pinker, author, The Blank Slate

The fallacy of attributing every unfortunate outcome to deliberate intent, and neglecting the possibility of incompetence, unplanned by-products, or entropy.

Constance Hale, author, The Natives Are Restless

As a noun, the Hawaiian word pono translates as “goodness, moral correctness, proper procedure, and welfare.” The adjective means “fitting, righteous, virtuous, or beneficial.” The adverb means “completely, exactly, and carefully,” and the verb (ho‘opono) means “to make right, to behave correctly.” I wish English had an equally supple word or phrase that didn’t contain the religious overtones of moral or righteous. Do the right thing comes close, but it’s a mouthful.

Reader Responses

Graham Roumieu

Russell Stanaland, San Francisco, Calif.

We need a word to distinguish between spicy hot and thermal hot. Maybe we can borrow picante from Spanish.

Howard Gardner, Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education, Harvard, Cambridge, Mass.

We need a word to describe how instrumental music affects the listener. We have literal descriptions (slow) and emotional ones (sad), but neither begins to describe the ways music is anticipated, heard, and recalled.

Heather Woodford, Elkhorn, Neb. (winner of our October reader poll)

We desperately need grown-up equivalents for the words boyfriend and girlfriend. Beau? Lady friend? Too old. Bae? Too young. Lover? Ick!

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