Wordsmiths forge new names for things

April 02, 1993|By Rob Kyff | Rob Kyff,The Hartford Courant

Did you ever wonder what to call that nasty feel in your mouth after a long night's sleep? Or that wince you make when you suddenly remember a painful moment from the past? Or that repeated, back-and-forth side-step two pedestrians perform when they're trying to avoid a head-on collision?

Thanks to a delightful book called "In a Word -- a Dictionary of Words that Don't Exist but Ought To," edited by Harper's Magazine staffer Jack Hitt, you can now call that morning mouth "maunch" (a combination of "mouth" and "raunch"), that wince of memory a "twick" ("twinge" and "tick," as in clock) and that

awkward pas de deus a "willie pep" (after the fancy footwork of the famous boxer.)

The neologisms in "In a Word" were contributed by an eclectic assortment of writers and celebrities ranging from novelist Margaret Atwood ("gup," an acronym for "grace under pressure"), journalist Daniel Schorr ("flount," a combo of "flaunt" and "flout"), basketball player Bill Walton ("bridgeword," a euphemism, such as "bull feathers," that bridges the acceptable and the profance), and actress Katharine Hepburn ("galubcious," the sensation of wrapping your tongue around a chocolate dessert.)

Some of the coinages are back-formations: "vorce" from divorce,"meaning to remarry one's former spouse, and "deprovement," meaning an alleged improvement that actually makes things worse, like the colorization of movies.

Some are acronyms, as in "moto" (master of the obvious).

Many are splice words, like "corp-orado" (a renegade exective) and "phoclo," the litany of cliches ending a phone call. ("Right. Talk to you soon. Right. OK. Bye.")

And many are eponymns: "disney" (to prettify and simplify) and "macgyver" (to use whatever resources are at hand to solve a problem, as the TV character did.)

But the neologisms in the book I life best are the words for phenomena we all notice but never know what to call: "swoop head" -- a man who grows his hair long on one side of his head and swoops it over his bald pate, a la Zero Mostel; and "malliday" -- a federal holiday, like Presidents' Day, that has become merely an excuse for sales at shopping malls.

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