Word Spy Blog

Category Archives: Last Week in New Words

The Accidental Neologist

This week’s accidental theme is, well, accidents. Specifically, accidents related to Scotland, traffic, lips, aging, feet, and, of course, words.
Words Spied
ajockalypse n. The alleged political chaos that would ensue should the Scottish National Party win a large number of seats in a United Kingdom election (apocalypse + Jock [Scottish variation of the name John]). [Politico]

crashless adj. Incapable of getting in an accident, particularly due to the use of technology designed to prevent or avoid crashes. [Men’s Journal]

lipthinking n. Thinking out loud. [Twitter]

zenosyne n. The sense that time speeds up as we get older. [The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows]

Word of the Week

pedal error n. Pressing the wrong pedal while driving, particularly when this results in an accident.

A series of exhaustive investigations by federal regulators, with help from NASA engineers, established that the perception of an electronic failure was almost certainly illusory. The problem was caused either by the fact that some people put in poorly fitted, nonstandard floor mats or by the fact that drivers were pressing the accelerator thinking that it was the brake. (Pedal error, as it is known, is a well-documented source of vehicle malfunction, affecting drivers of many makes and models.)

—Malcom Gladwell, “The Engineer’s Lament,” The New Yorker, May 4, 2015

Cruft* of the Week

stuplime adj. Inane or silly to the point of transcendence (stupid + sublime). [Slate]

“Poorly built, possibly over-complex; generally unpleasant” —The Jargon File.

Quick Links
5 language arguments you can stop having

10 Phrases That Come From Horse Racing

Cutthroat compounds in English morphology

English language is changing faster than ever, research reveals

The Rise of Emoji on Instagram Is Causing Language Repercussions

Close Quote
Far from being vulgar or frivolous or both, wordplay is a complex literary device permitting a richer response to language. Skillfully deployed, the pun does not bandy words, but bandages together (it arises, after all, from a linguistic accident) disparate meanings. Its vivacious, sometimes pugnacious presence warns the reader against taking the text at face value.

—Gary Egan, Verbatim

Working the Pelvic Floor of Language

This week: Do real cowboys get mani-pedis and work their pelvic floor muscles because we live in a culture saturated by images of men who use beards to make themselves to appealing to, well, somebody? (If you happen to be a cowboy or a man with a beard and you find this question offensive, please accept my non-apology in advance.)
Words Spied
Cowboyistan n. Nickname for the industry that drills for and extracts oil and natural gas in the United States. [The New York Times]

fauxlection n. A sham or rigged election (faux + election). [Twitter]

mani-pedi curious adj. Curious about or open to exploring the spa treatment that consists of both a manicure and a pedicure. (Also: mani/pedi curious; cf. bi-curious) [Shop sandwich board (below)] In case you’re wondering, the compound mani-pedi dates to 1972.


Mani-pedi curious. Photo by Paul McFedries.

narcoaesthetics n. Conceptions of female beauty based on the perception of women as decorative objects, particularly within a culture saturated by images of women who have used plastic surgery to make themselves appealing to drug lords. [The Guardian]

pfilates n. Pilates exercises that concentrate on the pelvic floor muscles (pf [from “pelvic floor”] + pilates). [The Globe and Mail]

Word of the Week
onomatapology n. An apology that sounds sincere but falls short of being an actual apology (onomatopoeia + apology).

Jeremy Renner gave the truest version of what I have sometimes called the “onomatopology.” It’s not an apology, but it makes apology noises.
—Linda Holmes, “Jeremy Renner…,” Twitter, April 24, 2015

Cruft* of the Week

Grimbo n. The economic limbo in which Greece is said to be while it negotiates with its creditors (Greece + limbo). [CNBC]

“Poorly built, possibly over-complex; generally unpleasant” —The Jargon File.

Quick Links
10 Americanisms that were originally English

11 Facts Yü Should Know About the Umlaut

How selected consonants sound around Europe, in 9 maps

Singular “they”: the arguments

The Secret Slang of the Diamond District

What unusual phrases does YOUR region use? Interactive grammar map reveals bizarre language differences across the U.S.

Close Quote
Never forget, though, that language is the people’s. Your witless superstition will, by-and-large, be ignored by the speakers of the language, and the alleged impropriety will almost certainly win out in the end. Don’t mistake yourself for a brave defender of our language against the barbarians at the gates when, in truth, you’re nothing but a millennialist shouting about the end-times of the English language. Meanwhile, the world spins on, and the language flourishes, hale and hearty.
—Gabe Doyle, “Singular ‘they’ and the many reasons why it’s correct

Thought for Food

This week’s smorgasbord of neological brain food asks the question: For our species’ future protein needs, will we create more grazing land for the animals we eat or more foods based on insects? Perhaps the algorithms will decide for us.

Words Spied

c-fu n. A high-protein tofu made from mealworms or other insects (crickets + tofu). [Popular Science]

C-fu. Source: Popular Science.

grasslandification n. The process of turning wetlands and similar non-grazing lands into pasture. [Twitter]

no-drone zone n. An area over which drones or similar unpiloted aerial vehicles are prohibited to fly. [Reuters]

pregreening pp. At a traffic light, creeping forward in anticipation of the light turning from red to green. [East Bay Express]

Word of the Week

nostalgic present n. In a literary work, a setting similar to the present day, but without modern technologies such as smartphones and social media.

In literary fiction, the more popular solution seems to be relying on settings close to the present, but far enough back to avoid such inconvenience. Granted, the popularity of the 1970s, 1980s, and early-1990s as settings also owes plenty to generational shifts in literary production as people write about formative periods and the years they remember. But it also avoids any number of narrative problems and allows writers to go on telling stories in the way they are used to, rather than incorporating the present in ways that are difficult and disruptive. When I recently wondered on Twitter — one of those very disruptions — if we’ve reached the point of needing a term for this kind of setting, author Jared Yates Sexton suggested “the nostalgic present.”
—Author, “Reader, I Muted Him: The Narrative Possibilities of Networked Life,” The Millions, March 19, 2015

Cruft* of the Week

algorithmocracy n. A government or state in which political discourse is dominated by algorithmically-curated social media feeds, particularly Facebook. [Brasil Wire]

“Poorly built, possibly over-complex; generally unpleasant” —The Jargon File.

Quick Links

Kibitzing chess players and editors

Language is open source

The Muddied Meaning of ‘Mindfulness’

Physically the new literally

Your Inevitable Robocar Future

Close Quote

When you think of what constitutes English, or French, or any other language, you probably think of books. You think of dictionaries, grammars, AUTHORITIES that tell you what the language is and isn’t.

But I’m here as a linguist to tell you that’s not what language is. Language is an open source project.
Gretchen McCulloch

Mixed Fodder for Cattle

Welcome to Last Week in New Words, where each week I present a farrago of neological words and links. (Like farrago, you ask? Alas, no. This not-quite-extinct 17th-century word means, “a medley; a confusion of things.” It comes from a Latin term meaning, “mixed fodder for cattle,” but no insult should be inferred from that connection.)
Words Spied
alligatoring n. Deterioration of a roof to the point where it resembles the skin of an alligator. [Jordan Roof LA]

megalothymia n. The need to feel superior to others. [National Review]

petrichor n. The smell of rain. [IFL Science]

thanatotactics n. Inflicting death as a means to a political end (thanato-, “death” + tactics). [TomDispatch] Thanks to Doug Manley for spying this word.

Word of the Week
borecore n. Online content that shows people performing mundane tasks. n.

A cynic might dismiss all this obsessive self-documentation as evidence of generational narcissism, but you could just as easily choose to view it as a developing global pastime. Call it borecore: the never-to-be-viral output that comes from mixing powerful devices and a lifetime of social-­media training with regular, old teenage boredom.

—Jenna Wortham, “Borecore,” The New York Times, April 3, 2015

Cruft* of the Week

craisin n. A dried cranberry (cranberry + raisin). [Chicacgo Tribune]

“Poorly built, possibly over-complex; generally unpleasant” —The Jargon File.


Craisins. Source: Tomtheman5 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons.

Quick Links
The absolutely legitimate, incredibly useful Indian English word you’re not using

Brattling After The Pacifire: ‘That Should Be A Word’

Neologism Diaspora, or: Who, Exactly, is Responsible for “Bae”

Smearch, Fidgital, Skinjecture: Creating New Terms for the Modern World

What Part of “No, Totally” Don’t You Understand?

Close Quote
If we are turning words inside-out to create more ways to agree with one another, I am all for it. No language could have too many ways to express the pleasure of emotional, aesthetic, and intellectual connection—or, for that matter, too many ways to simply say yes. Saying yes as often as possible is, famously, the first rule of improv, vital to maintaining energy, imagination, and humor. It is also, I have long thought, a sure sign that you’re falling in love, not to mention crucial to sustaining that love over the long haul. And, while sometimes impractical, dangerous, or just plain dumb, saying yes to as much stuff as possible is, over all, a pretty good strategy for getting through life.

—Kathryn Schulz, The New Yorker

Last Week in New Words – Je Suis Charlie

Hipsters, hashtags, beats, gluten, and the unloved Internet await you in this week’s collection of what’s new in neologisms.

Words Spied

Let’s begin with a few new words and phrases that I spotted last week:

beat deaf adj. Unable to follow or keep time to a beat. [AudiologyOnline]

glutenophobic adj. Having a strong, possibly irrational, aversion to gluten. [Wordlady]

hipsterocalypse n. The destruction of civilization as we know it due to a catastrophic overabundance of hipsters and hipster culture. And beards. (hipster + apocalypse) [Twitter

sad Internet n. Items posted or published on the Internet for public consumption that are never read, viewed, listened to, liked, favorited, or funded. [Yahoo! Tech]

Word of the Week

#JeSuisCharlie hashtag An expression of support for freedom of speech and freedom from terror. [Twitter]

This hashtag and the original French phrase “Je Suis Charlie” (“I am Charlie”) have become the most visible symbols of the remarkable displays of defiance and solidarity that we’ve seen in France and around the world in the wake of the attack on the offices of the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo on January 7. Twitter has said that the #JeSuisCharlie hashtag has been one of the most popular in the company’s history, with more than five million tweets posted in the first 36 hours. (It’s still going strong, with nearly 1,000 tweets being posted in the time it took me to write this entry.)

The hashtag began on January 7 with a tweeted image by artist and journalist Joachim Roncin showing just the words “Je Suis Charlie” on a black background (see below). A few minutes later the French student Thierry Puget retweeted the image along with the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie, and a powerful catchphrase was born.

Je Suis Charlie, by artist Joachim Roncin

Cruft* of the Week

traitriot n. A person who betrays his or her country for patriotic reasons (traitor + patriot). [Tribune-Review]

* “Poorly built, possibly over-complex; generally unpleasant”
The Jargon File.

In Praise of the Hashtag

Last week, the American Dialect Society named the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter as their Word of the Year for 2014. As with many things in the linguistic realm, reaction immediately formed into two opposing camps: “I hate it because a hashtag is not a word” and “I love it because it’s bold and brave and of course a hashtag is a word.”

Having just chosen a hashtag as the Word of the Week, you know where I’ve pitched my own tent. First, we can discard the “hashtag is a not a word” argument easily enough. Many existing English words are the result of compounding, where two separate words combine to create something new. Grandmotherlifelike, and threefold are all perfectly acceptable words created by compounding. Although some hashtags are single words, most are formed by combining (that is to say, by compounding) two or more words into a single lexical entity — what linguists, bless them, like to call a “vocabulary item” — preceded by the hash sign (#). [Update: As a recent column in the Economist points out, a more serious objection to treating a hashtag such as #BlackLivesMatter as a word is that it’s often used as a clause, as in “We want justice because #BlackLivesMatter.” However, as the column also shows, people quite often use #BlackLivesMatter as a noun, thus qualifying it as a thing-in-itself and eligible for wordhood.]

But a hashtag is more than just a few words smushed together. Like any good neologism, a good hashtag becomes a verbal shorthand for a larger idea. You could write “I support freedom of expression and freedom from terror in the wake of the attacks on Charlie Hebdo,” or you could write #JeSuisCharlie. You could write “I believe that every woman has had some experience of being harassed and even attacked physically and mentally by men,” or you could write #YesAllWomen.

The danger, of course, is that we use hashtags as mindless slogans or that they fail to take into account subtle distinctions and nuances. For example, if you support freedom of the press but despise the type of satire published by Charlie Hebdo, the hashtag #JeSuisCharlie might be too blunt of an instrument for you. If that’s the case, there’s always the hashtag #JeSuisCharlieMaisJeNeSuisPasCeCharliePublie (“I am Charlie but I am not what Charlie publishes”), but now the instrument has gone from blunt to unwieldy. However, note that  #JeSuisCharlieMais (“I am Charlie, but…”) is popular right now with people who have reservations over what Charlie Hebdo publishes, thus providing a good middle ground and showing the flexibility of this new and welcome facet of the language. #LongLiveTheHashtag!

[See the hashtag entry on Word Spy]

Quick Links

Why We Should Declare an Emoticon of the Year

To the dictionary’s class of 1914: happy birthday!

Our New Year jargon guide: The words we’ll miss in 2015

These business buzzwords will define 2015

Mich. man invents word for ‘nieces and nephews’

What do you call a group of word nerds?

Close Quote

[2012] was the year when the hashtag became a ubiquitous phenomenon in online talk. In the Twittersphere and elsewhere, hashtags have created instant social trends, spreading bite-sized viral messages on topics ranging from politics to pop culture.
—Ben Zimmer [American Dialect Society]