Dear Merriam-Webster

Dear Merriam -Webster

 There are those who believe that dictionaries should not merely reflect the times but also protect English from the mindless assaults of the trendy. – Anonymous

 The Merriam Webster’s dictionary announced recently the adoption of over 100 new words into their world famous lexicon of language.  The adoption of new terms into the world famous anthology of English is no simple feat. In the past, scores of popular cultural slang have languished in literary purgatory awaiting proper recognition from Webster.  A sampling of the potpourri of lucky winners includes:

 Carbon footprint (1999): the negative impact that something (as a person or business) has on the environment; specifically: the amount of carbon emitted by something during a given period.

 Waterboarding (2004): an interrogation technique in which water is forced into a detainee’s mouth and nose so as to induce the sensation of drowning.

 Flash mob (1987): a group of people summoned (as by e-mail or text message) to a designated location at a specified time to perform an indicated action before dispersing.

 Frenemy (1977): one who pretends to be a friend but is actually an enemy.

 Goji (2003): the dark red mildly tart berry of a thorny chiefly Asian shrub (Lycium barbarum) that is typically dried and used in beverages.

 Green-collar (1990): of, relating to, or involving actions for protecting the natural environment.

 Sock puppet (1959): a false online identity used for deceptive purposes.

 Locavore (2005): one who eats foods grown locally whenever possible.

Over the years, I have habitually, and unsuccessfully, submitted words for consideration to lexicographers only to be snubbed by these sultans of syntax. My terms and phrases represent orphaned gaps in our day-to-day lives – situations that leave us speechless, groping – often for a word that has not yet been birthed but is  needed to give wings to our articulation. Consider how our daily grammar could be enriched when leavened with these highly descriptive terms:

Renervate. (v). (rehn-er-vate) To repeatedly push an already illuminated/activated button such as a street crossing or elevator out of anxiety or impatience. Ex. The nervous little man got on to the lift, renervating the illuminated Lobby button as if somehow by doing so, he might force the carriage to go faster.

Freep,n. ( frep ) – an inorganic noise identical to the sound of human flatulence. In a social setting, a freep can be a source of embarrassment and while usually not acknowledged, it is often followed by the offending freeper’s deliberate efforts to reproduce the noise to reassure bystanders that the sound was not gastro intestinal. Ex. As Robert leaned back on the leather sofa, his seat emitted a distinct, high pitched freep.  He discreetly shifted back and forth hoping to replicate the sound so all might not think he was dyspeptic.  v – Freeping, freepulous, pl. -freepae

Strumble, n. ( struhm-bell) – an awkward, lunge forward, usually as a result of a misstep, where one tries to give onlookers the illusion that the gaffe was planned. As Patrick stared at the gaggle of girls, he tripped on a tree root – launching him into a ten foot long strumble followed by a light jog.

Brupp, ( bruhp )v.  A sudden inhaled, breathless hesitation, normally occurring in mid sentence. Effecting mostly men, a speech delay caused by mild upper gastro intestinal distress.   As his father was lecturing him at dinner, Ted’s dad brupped and then thankfully lost his train of thought. 

Crizzle- n. ( kriz-zel ). – Petrified pet food, usually caked on the sides of dishes or on the floor adjacent to an area where an animal feeds. The crizzled bits of cat food stuck to the bowl and attracted large blue bottle flies.  –adj. crizzled, crizzulous

Brunk, n. ( bruhnk ). The uninformed, stupid face teenagers make when they have no excuse. Alternative – oaf like, utterly without wit or forethought. When asked repeatedly what he was thinking when he took his father’s car for a joy ride, 15 year old Lance stared brunkishly at his parents and shrugged. adj – brunkish,

Sprinver, n. ( spen-vur )- The last cracked razor sharp shards of soap usually found in abandoned bathrooms and bachelor apartments.  Lucius groped for the new bar of Dove soap only to find it purloined by his roommate. All that remained were useless, ancient sprinvers that would produce no lather.

Vasp- n. ( vassp). A mean vacuous person whose uses social status to malign, manipulate and manage others.  She was quintessentially LA – an anorexic, cosmetically altered vasp – a veritable social XRAY. Adj – Vasp, vaspish, vaspishly

 Supraculous, adj. ( soo-prak-you-luhs )- describing those who glance over a person’s shoulder in mid conversation to watch others entering a social gathering or meeting.  It was clear from Sandra’s supraculous glances that Mike was merely a placeholder until someone more interesting came along.

Cherking, v.( cher-kin)  – the deliberate act of resisting getting ready for church on a Sunday morning.  To Mark, this was a clear case of cherking as he went upstairs to find out why the boys were not in the car.

Assceleration – n. ( as-sel-ahr-ate ), The action of a person speeding up in an adjacent lane to prevent you from changing into their lane.  As Tina indicated her desire to change lanes, an adjacent BMW quickly asselerated, forcing her to swerve and curse out loud.  n -asselerator

Disconsequentious,  ( dis – con-see-kwen-chus ) adj. The look of hesitation a small child or dog gives you just before they deliberately ignoring your commands. The two year old child disconsequentiously glanced as his mother yelled, ” stop” just before putting the kitty litter into his mouth. 

 Fraculent – ( frak –el – unt ) adj. Foul smelling , normally associated with decay and/or body odor, a noxious miasma often encountered in gymnasiums, laundry baskets and children’s travel hockey and lacrosse bags.  As she walked into the house with the groceries, a fraculent odor assaulted Caroline’s nose – causing her to gag and search the foyer for a dead animal.

 Retroflagration – n. ( ret –roh-flah-gray-shun )The unnecessary feeling of guilt one gets as a result to some specific stimulus or trigger. John was struck with an odd flash of retroflagration as he watched the USC cheerleaders. He suddenly felt very old.

 As I conclude my list of worthy descriptions, expressions and objects to Webster’s, my Microsoft Word Spellcheck keeps underlining them in an annoying serrated red line.  Someday, perhaps, when grammar and Spellcheck become more contemporary, these words will not register red or even green.   They will become normal brush strokes on the literary canvas of our daily lives.

 It’s my belief that we need constant new shoots springing out of our tired, archaic palaver that help us refine the description of our daily circumstances and situations.  Without new terminology, our lingua franca becomes fractured and depleted – a fraculent relic of a once beautifully perfumed form of communication. 

 Ugh, there’s that red line again!

The Oxymoron’s Guide to Rambling

The Oxymoron’s Guide to Rambling

 

“It infuriates me to be wrong when I know I’m right.” – Moliére

 

William Safire has made a career as America’s literary guide – assisting the grammatically challenged each week to navigate the great mountain ranges of the etymology – the history and roots of words.   Quick to identify the ancient epicenters of our lingua franca, Safire’s laser orienteering offers his readers an entertaining deconstruction of the DNA of grammar.  Under his deft instruction, any literary rambler can become more self-sufficient as they seek to master the more advanced landscapes of our native tongue.

 

As a neophyte wordsmith, I enjoy exploring the blue vernacular highways of English.  My preoccupation with what Noel Coward described as “people divided by a common language “was initially stimulated by my pursuit of a bachelor degree in Literature and then hyperactivated by the likes of Safire, Buckley, Stegner and Bierce.  My hobby turned to obsession while living abroad.  In England, I was routinely barraged with surrogate verbs and bizarre changeling nouns that supplanted the terms and phrases that were critical cultural rivets to my social and mental way of life.  To cope, I needed to understand their root meanings and weave them into my everyday existence.

 

It started one innocent afternoon when my son came home from school in his emblemed green jumper and blue corduroy pants asking me if he could have some crisps.  To a native Californian, a “crisp” was a drugged out surfer dude.

 

“He means potato chips,” my Anglo-American spouse mused. 

 

Weeks later, my other son leaned over and whispered to me, “Daddy, I think I messed my knickers.” I worried that within a few months, I would need an interpreter to speak to my own kids.  I agonized even more that years later when we moved back to America they would be beaten senseless by school yard bullies befuddled by their lilting Oxford accent.  “I say, old fellow, you’re acting a bit bohemian, aren’t you?”

 

A narrow pig eyed squint, “ Say that again, French fry”. 

 

“ I believe you’ve mistaken my English accent for French.  This happens when one is denied a proper public school education or spends too much time in one’s abode in his trailer park.” More squinting and clenched fists.“ I’m not sure what you just said but I’m gonna ‘a-bode’ you.”

 

At school, we had to buy our children “rubbers”, apply first aid with “plasters” and hear them snicker about someone “snogging” in the Tesco “ car park”. My misunderstandings became graver when the cable installation man casually admitted to me that he was going outside to “smoke a fag”.  I was about to dial the local constable to report a hate crime in process when my spouse told me to relax that he was merely taking a cigarette break. Even Dave, our handy man and perhaps the world’s slowest moving human being in the UK, ran circles around me as he incessantly complained about “prats”, “poofs” and “whinging, mental birds”.

 

On weekends, we would periodically escape suburban London with a drive down the A3 motorway to visit the children’s favorite farm in Surrey. At a certain roundabout, we would exit on to a small frontage road where a home and garden store offered prefabricated garden sheds.  A very visible billboard promised, “Buy Today and Get a Free Erection”.

 

I returned to America with a confused vocabulary of idioms, euphemisms, double entendres and suffering from tedious circumlocution. I started noticing the strange American oxymoronic phrases and odd grammatical habits that were woven into my daily routines.  For example, why is it that one must help clean up the house because the cleaners are coming to clean? Why do women watch the Food Channel while exercising at the gym?

 

Is there such a thing as a “non-working mother”?

 

I am told my “kids will stay healthy if they get dirty” and that if “I want to keep something, I should let it go”. I am reminded that “sinners make the best saints” and that sometimes, I must be “cruel to be kind”.  Someone told me years ago as I moved away from California that sometimes “a person has to leave a place in order to be able to return”.  After twenty years of marriage, I know that “silence can be deafening” and the fact that sometimes, you must “surrender if you want to win.”

 

Is it possible to be “pretty ugly?”  Do stripper’s have dressing rooms?  What exactly is a “butt head?”

 

The English language can also be wonderfully descriptive as evidenced by the use of collective nouns in the nature.  If you are an ornithologist, you might spy a “charm” of finches, a “parliament” of owls, a “murder” of crows, a “ wake” of buzzards, a “siege” of cranes, an “ implausibility” of gnus or an “exultation” of larks. I even invented some of my own collective nouns.  What about a “cyst” of politicians, a “stink” of (teenaged) boys, a “fang” of (teenaged) girls and a “neoplasm” of reality TV stars?  On the range, you might spy a “sinew” of cowboys.  In a pretentious club, one might be seated next to a “vacuum” of bachelors or dance with a “scandal” of debutantes.  At a town hall meeting, is it possible one might endure a “purgatory” of speakers?

 

Language is, in the end, a dense boreal forest where one can easily stray from a footpath and get snagged on an oxymoron, injured by an idiom, captivated by a collective noun or mangled on a malaprop.  Yet, the forest provides all that we need once we learn to respect it and recognize its subtle signs and hidden treasures. Palaver can be domesticated and tamed; and when properly cultivated, language can yield a rich bounty, even to the most amateur of verbal pioneers.

 

It’s just like your parents used to say,   “I’m not going to tell you, but I told you so…”