I recently created a word and submitted it to the editors at www.urbandictionary.com (SPOILER…rated R and above language found there). Even though I believe urbandictionary.com has a very low editorial standard, I was glad to see my word-vention published! Furthermore, I got the approval email on New Year’s Eve, near Midnight! 😉
Check it out here:
Words enjoy a life cycle, very similar to that of humankind. You probably don’t think about it often, but subconsciously you already know words are always being born, growing up more or less popular, serving useful purposes, and finally fading from favor and use for various reasons.
Jargon just works! Bouncing, baby, butt loads of words are born as jargon, that is to say they live out their useful lives serving a particular niche group, industry, or technology. Jargon words are the 8-5 clock punchers of the word world. They work! Jargon words are so handy and practical that they often make it into the broader culture. Who among us can honestly say their life is not some kind of “snafu”? (situation normal… all f*cked up) Marching like the military that gave us the word “snafu”, we just go on dealing with our lives, even if they are crazy, because, hey, that’s the normal state of affairs!
Mama onomatopoeia gives birth to some interesting words. Some words just sound like the thing or condition which they define, like “drip”. Literary snobs call this onomatopoeia; I just call it em-frigging-powering! The potential to name and define the world we encounter goes up exponentially if one is careful to really look at things, and determine whether the thing “in itself”, suggests a word that is fit, and appropriate unto itself. Some words sound as if they have always existed and were waiting to be found and attached to the right time/place/thing. We are all familiar with the comic book examples of, “Pow!”, “Bam!”, and Zoing!!” that were popularized on TV’s “Batman”. “Squinched is one of my favorite words exhibiting onomatopoeia. The best use of squinched I have ever seen can be read in Galway Kinnel’s poem, “Blackberry Eating”, which is among my favorite poems ever! Cool Galway Kinnel Poem
Cognates are cohabiting! Not unlike humans, words often live secret lives in the shadows and we barely recognize their subtlety. Some words have “mid-life crises”, wandering around like lovers, lost until they find new life as a cognate, or “word borrowed from another language”. Cognates are like highly efficient, networker words that weasel their way, and the influence they purvey, into a totally new career and job description when they see their old market drying up. It’s kind of sad that cognates “cheat” on their original language, but who can blame them? Cognates seem sophisticated, are probably beautiful, in American English are often French, and are often soo sexy, ooh la la (ahem!…another cognate). At the very least, a cognate is useful enough to deserve a second go around. A few of my favorite cognates in American English are; “raison d’être”, which means “reason for existence” literally, and is taken from the French enlightenment era, also “gesundheit”, which is borrowed from German, and in keeping with German pragmatism literally means, “good health”… a very practical and precise wish for the sneezer, when compared to the more ephemeral and other worldly, “God Bless You”, which is in such widespread use, here in the US of A (Who are these blessers? Are they sincere? In which God’s authority am I being blessed?), and finally, “linguine”, which is Italian for linguine, and linguine really has the perfect texture when it is served under some very fresh seafood and a red sauce, then paired with a nice Chianti!
Ill-intentioned euphemisms! Euphemistic language is the weapon of choice for politics, and one’s own, internal, half-honest, rationalizing self (politics and lying to oneself = practical equivalents). Euphemistic language simply replaces an unpalettable word, or a provocative word or phrase, with a word that is a little softer on the ear, the mind, and the conscience. My favorite internal euphemism regards “holiday cookies”, which may literally be read as “diet-busters”! In my head, I optimistically, and narcissistically, rephrase the debate and refer to holiday cookies as “one time splurges”, or “well deserved treats at a special time of year”. Unfortunately for me and cookies, it’s always a special time of year. Word! 😉 Politically speaking my favorite piece of euphemistic language is the word, “choice”, as it is applied to the issue of abortion. I am not pro-choice, but the phrase is my favorite euphemism, because it exemplifies the most powerful aspect of a good euphemistic word; the ability to reframe a debate. When the word “choice” is used euphemistically in place of abortion, arguments in the debate are immediately steered away from the life in the womb, and steered to the woman (or persons) who are seeking to terminate that life. What a powerful stroke of word magic. As a coups de grâce, the “choice” movement has also gotten the mainstream media to stop referring to those with an opposing viewpoint as “pro-life”, and start referring to them as “anti-choice”, or “anti-abortion”. Ha! If you still don’t understand how changing the language changes the debate, ask yourself this question, would you rather spend time with people who were “pro” something as beautiful as “life”? Or would you prefer to be stuck in a 3 hour lecture with people who are “anti-anything”? The “anti-anything” crowd sounds like a real fun day at a picnic, eh? It was a very savvy rhetorical move to associate ending human life with something most Americans want and clamor for, a “choice”! The argument has been reduced to a Pepsi v. Coke taste test, and babies lose! I think you get the drift, regardless of your position on the subject of the euphemistic values of “choice”.
Often, sadly, words die. As a matter of fact, entire languages die. Classical examples of dead languages include Biblical Hebrew, Koine Greek, and Latin. As the strength of the civilization that employed a language rose and fell, the words rose and fell too. The upside is that modern language is replete with words from those “dead” languages which have been borrowed and modified (cognates again). These ancient-words-come-lately haven’t just endured the centuries to trip on our tongues; they have enjoyed a kind of resurrection! At this point it is worth mentioning that the study of “dead” languages can yield some very high-octane word power, affording the student broader depth of understanding of almost any other language. If you’d like more facility with English, study any other language!
I may try inventing a “perfect” word during the year 2012. If I look really hard, and observe a word that sounds like the thing it represents, or borrow beautiful, continental words, or lie to myself with a real whopper of a euphemism, you may see it turn up on wordswurdswirds! If the word is aptly invented, perhaps it will be published in another venue by someone other than this great guy. Word!