Is the English language full?

By Alex Beam

I love neologisms, coinages, new words, whatever you want to call them. I think “staycation” is hilarious. Daniel Maurer, author of “Brocabulary: The New Man-i-festo of Dude Talk” is merchandising the words “brobituary” and “manecdote.”

Brobituary is the all-too-apropos term for the valedictory speeches a man hears at his wedding. Full of praise and good feeling, they signal that the portion of his life worth living has come to an end.

A manecdote is a story that emphasizes one’s manliness. Like the time I talked about repairing the garage door. Which I still haven’t done.

These words are just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve been keeping tabs on the marketing-driven variants of “metrosexual,” which now include “petrosexual” and “jetrosexual.” What about “retrosexual,” which fits me to a T? Whenever I hear that two young people are getting married, I exclaim: “To a member of the opposite sex? How exotic.”

Conventional wisdom likens the English language to a healthy, growing organism that easily generates new words like “poke” (in the Facebook sense), “ginormous,” “crowdsource,” or “webisode.” Every few years, a new edition of Merriam-Webster or American Heritage issues a press release commending themselves for integrating words like “Web-surfing” and “Islamo-fascism” into their dictionaries.

Similarly, the language purges itself of words that are no longer of any use, like “etiquette,” “manners,” and “modesty.”

Are new words as great as we think they are? Paul MacInnes, writing for The Guardian newspaper, says no. “The common line is that any new word is a good word,” he says. “It shows a vibrant, playful language shaped by those who practice it.” He continues: “Not often, however, does anyone stop to ask whether this is a good thing, whether … the English language is full.”

Full! Interesting concept: New Words Need Not Apply.

MacInnes caught up with something called The English Project, supported by the BBC, the English Speaking Union and other worthies, which “aims to create … an innovatory ‘language exposition’ (or ‘living museum’) where visitors – both physically and virtually – will be able to explore the English language in all its vigorous complexity across time and geography.” Their Web site is http://www.englishproject.co.uk.

The EP has been harvesting what it calls “kitchen table lingo,” previously unheard words that might be used by as few as three people. “If enough other people start to use your words,” they announce, “then they could end up in the Oxford English Dictionary!”

MacInnes and other Brit lingoists seem underwhelmed by the Project’s discoveries. Residents of the United Kingdom, we learn, have invented many, many words for the telly’s remote control. (Just as the Canadians have many descriptive words for underwear, including “gaunch,” “gotch,” “gitch,” and “ginch.”) In Britain, “podger,” “blipper,” “twitcher” and “melly” are just a few of the new names for the remote.

I call our remote “the situation,” as in, “hand me the situation, please.” This is not the most precise term, because often I am handed a Kleenex, the Economist magazine, or just a beleaguered look. “Do we really need new words for the remote?” MacInnes asks, and one would have to say: No.

More Sarah Palin-dromes!

The contest isn’t over yet, as excellent entries continue to find their way to my inbox. (A palindrome is a word or phrase that reads the same backward or forward, the classic example being, “Madam, I’m Adam.”)

Serial palindromist George Lovely chips in, “Woe! Dawns Sarah harassn’ Wade. Ow!” where Wade refers to Roe v. Wade, of course.

Alison Merrill sent in a serious candidate for world’s longest Palin-drome: “‘Ah! I made veep.’ – S.P. Moody? Baby? Doom? P.S. Peeved am I, ha!”

In contrast, brevity is the soul of Ira Richler’s wit: “Peeve: Babe veep.”

Bob Treitman sent me “‘Hey, did I harass?’ Sarah: ‘I did, yeh.”‘

From Hastings, in the United Kingdom, Paul Barlow put down the podger long enough to send in eight, repeat eight, vice-presidential palindromes! On McCain’s vice-presidential announcement, he writes, “Avid dog delivers reviled god-diva.” On Palin’s election as Alaska’a governor, “Hara! She won snow eh? Sarah?”

Brace yourself. There are more.

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