Streams

Word Maven Patricia T. O'Conner on Failed Neologisms

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Our word maven Patricia T. O'Conner talks about failed neologisms—new words that never made it into the dictionary. She’ll also tackle your questions about the English language and grammar. An updated and expanded third edition of her book, Woe is I: The Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English in Plain English, is now out in paperback, along with Origins of the Specious, written with Stewart Kellerman.

Guests:

Patricia T. O'Conner

Comments [76]

Susan from Morningside Heights

Re the starting a response with "So" epidemic -- I've noticed over the past few years that it is especially used by academics who are called in to some show or other to weigh in on their areas of expertise. So (to use the word correctly, I trust!) I assume it is something they also do in their classes.

My own pet peeve? Will we ever hear the end of "at the end of the day?" I hear it mostly from elected officials, as if it comes out of some central playbook on "framing your argument." Another, more recent, "framing" device that seems to come out of the same playbook is "Look," as in, for instance, "Look, we have to refocus our energies on ...." Every time I hear it I don't hear anything that comes after.

Aug. 23 2011 06:35 PM
Steve from Manhattan

My mother always uses the word "commote" to mean "make a commotion." A useful one!

Aug. 23 2011 06:27 PM
Margo from Forest Hills

My newly coined word is shlogg or shlogging. In good conscience I cannot call my daily shlogg a jog, since it is slow. However, it is more aerobic than a walk. It is meditative and fun. Go out for a shlogg!!! Thought of calling it a joll but shlogg just stuck.

Aug. 19 2011 12:25 AM
Anthony Drago from Jackson Heights, NYC

After hearing the evening re-broadcast, I checked the Shakespeare Concordance for the word "dickens." The caller is correct. The word appears in "Merry Wives" (Act III, 2), and is spoken by Mistress Quickly to Ford: "I cannot tell what the dickens his name is my husband had him of. What do you call your knight's name, sirrah." No other use by Shakespeare of this euphemism for devil is indicated. So Mrs. O'Conner is right: Shakespeare was indeed "prescient."

Aug. 18 2011 02:28 AM
Carl Peter Klapper from Edison, NJ

For Leonard in the Morning:

amnesiologism: a word you think up and then promptly forget.

Aug. 18 2011 02:17 AM
Patrick from NJ

I invented a new word that is now published on urbandictionary.com.

Ringtervention

When a person confronts a friend, family member, or any other person with whom they share a personal relationship about the ridiculousness of his or her ring tone with the hopes of getting him or her to change it.

Example: Hey, guys, I think we're going to need to have a ringtervention with Steve. His "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" ringtone is really starting to drive the chicks away.

Aug. 17 2011 03:43 PM
Vadim

discwasher

Aug. 17 2011 02:23 PM
Mame from New York City

When my son was about 8 years old, he came up with the term "inchargetarian" as a way to confirm who had the ruling position, or voice, in house at the time on any given issue. Naturally, like most children of his age, he campaigned to be the assistant or vice "inchargetatian" always. I love this word & even though my son is now 20 we still employ it. I think it is so succinct & helpful in clarifying and resolving issues in our home.

Aug. 17 2011 02:14 PM
Lisa Osborne from Long Valley

Along with the space filler "So" and "Like" and the vocal stammer of either 'Um', 'Er', 'Eh', or 'Ah', the newscasters more frequenlty than not use 'Now' even if they are reporting on something that clearly has no time relevance. Listen to the 6PM News and every or nearly every reporter will begin his/her report with 'Now'!

Aug. 17 2011 02:00 PM

Please, oh, please, will we eventually have to live with the word "anyways?" This makes my skin crawl! I hear this every day when I am out and about and on all TV shows, including network newscasts.

Aug. 17 2011 02:00 PM
Gerhard Randers-Pehrson from Ossining NY

It bugs me that factoid which meant resembeling a fact, now used to mean small piece of trivia.

Aug. 17 2011 01:59 PM
Suse from jksn hts

Bouncing off idea from caller about siblings vs nieces and nephews - perhaps the new word shouldn't be niblings but "ninlings", because you take first letters from niece and nephew, like from sister and brother...

Aug. 17 2011 01:59 PM
Jens from Sunnyside

"...what the dickens...":
MERRY WIVES, Act Three, Scene Two...

Aug. 17 2011 01:58 PM
Moshe from Brooklyn

People especiallly when interviewed use a lot the word "You Know" when describing something - It drives me nuts sometimes - what does it mean - is it just a pause to think?

Usually when I become aware of it while listening to an interview I can't continue listening

Aug. 17 2011 01:58 PM
Alicia Renee

Niblings...not so sure about that.
Albeit, since the birth of my cousin's child, I've been a Cuzaunt, & he, my Cuzephew.

Aug. 17 2011 01:57 PM
The Truth from Becky

How about OMG I can't take it anymore!

Aug. 17 2011 01:57 PM
Laura from UWS

PROCRASTITUTION....substituting one activity for the one you're supposed to be doing.....when you're procrastinating.

(from a friend).

Aug. 17 2011 01:56 PM
andrew from somerset, nj

Ford:
Where had you this pretty weathercock?

Mrs. Page:
I cannot tell what the dickens his name is my husband had
him of. What do you call your knight's name, sirrah?

Robin:
Sir John Falstaff.

Ford:
Sir John Falstaff!
The Merry Wives Of Windsor Act 3, scene 2, 18–23

Aug. 17 2011 01:56 PM
Amy from brooklyn

when I clean up around the living room and then my fiance can't find something that I put away or organized, we call it "hidying" (hide plus tidy)

Aug. 17 2011 01:56 PM
gene from NYC

A lot of these examples seem less like neologisms and more like malapropisms.

Aug. 17 2011 01:56 PM
Liz from washington heights

To describe how I feel at a certain time of the month: periodical.

Aug. 17 2011 01:55 PM
mark from Westchester

how about archaic usage? my wife goes crazy if I want a pizza pie, or a Coca-cola.

On the other hand, she streamlines to the point where "do you want to come with?"

Aug. 17 2011 01:55 PM

The "Entire State Building" as spoken by my 6 year old son 22 years ago.

Aug. 17 2011 01:55 PM
Andrew

Ford:
Where had you this pretty weathercock?

Mrs. Page:
I cannot tell what the dickens his name is my husband had
him of. What do you call your knight's name, sirrah?

Robin:
Sir John Falstaff.

Ford:
Sir John Falstaff!

The Merry Wives Of Windsor Act 3, scene 2, 18–23

Aug. 17 2011 01:55 PM
Elaine from Baltimore

Actually Leonard, she pronounces it with a strong A sound as in plate'lery. ;-)

"When my daughter sets the table, she asks me for the platlery"

Aug. 17 2011 01:55 PM
Zeb from NYC

"to reservate." to call a restaurant to make a reservation.

Aug. 17 2011 01:55 PM
Sarah from Williamsburg

SCORCHEROUS
(not mine -- a friend created it)

Aug. 17 2011 01:55 PM
Holt from Bronxville

When she was a toddler, my sister came up with a malapropism so wonderful, it qualifies as a great neologism. The word is "lasterday" - and it means "the day before yesterday" or alternatively "any day earlier than yesterday". A great word covering something that needed to be addressed.

Aug. 17 2011 01:54 PM
Steve from Flatbush

Leonard, you're assuming that the protagonists transformation into an insect is a devolution. Perhaps it is truly meta in that becoming inhuman was an improvement.

Aug. 17 2011 01:53 PM
dboy from nyc

"Meta" has infiltrated the local vernacular because hipster culture has co-opted the word in an effort to sound intelligent.

Aug. 17 2011 01:52 PM
David from the Upper West Side from UWS

my friend uses Niblets for nieces and nephews - shorter than nibblings!

Aug. 17 2011 01:52 PM
Anna from Brooklyn

What's the relationship between "revolting" as in disgusting and "revolting" as in overthrowing the government? I can trace both back the the Latin revolvere, to return again. Is it a reference to the action of the stomach turning in disgust?

Aug. 17 2011 01:52 PM
Christopher from Brooklyn

If couple cups, is an example of changing usage, the grammar is changing too with the elimination of the preposition.

Aug. 17 2011 01:51 PM
Lisa from Long Valley

My pet peeve (1st of many) is the continued use of "President..." to refer to both Geo.s Bush and Clinton while referring to Barak Obama first as President and then any additional comment (usually by News broadcasters) as "Mr. Obama".

Aug. 17 2011 01:51 PM
Mark Kalan from Valley Cottage NY

I don't recall how it happened but for years my wife and I have been calling windshield wiper fluid "go-go juice" which is strange because gasoline should be called the go-go juice.

Aug. 17 2011 01:50 PM
roxie munro

How about "I'm going to take a snap" - a short nap.

Aug. 17 2011 01:50 PM
David - UWS

My friend uses Niblet in regular speech for nieces and nephews - shorter than nibblings!

Aug. 17 2011 01:50 PM
Elaine from Baltimore

When my daughter sets the table, she asks me for the platlery.

Aug. 17 2011 01:50 PM
linda from brielle NJ

we always say "tropical" for optical illusion. weird but we love it.
"that's so... tropical"!

Aug. 17 2011 01:50 PM
Frank

When someone has a question - I usuallyreply "quest" No one has ever asked what quest needs

Aug. 17 2011 01:49 PM
Jens from Sunnyside

Bernard Levin discovered that the phrase "What the dickens?!" can be found in Shakespeare's MERRY WIVES OF WINDSOR...

Aug. 17 2011 01:49 PM
tom from UWS

People who live in glass hice:
Be discreet when you handle your spice.

Aug. 17 2011 01:49 PM
Gaby from Jackson Heights

My 7 year old son always says "hanitizer" for sanitizer.

Aug. 17 2011 01:49 PM
The Truth from Becky

I prefer formal, names, words etc...hate all acronyms and "clever" word play...sorry I just don't like it.

Aug. 17 2011 01:49 PM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

A new word I like from the show The Big Bang Theory is "prevening," which is the time between late afternoon and evening.

Aug. 17 2011 01:49 PM
Elaine from Baltimore

When my daughter sets the table, she asks me for the platlery.

Aug. 17 2011 01:49 PM

Answering a question with "that's a good question" makes me crazy. It seems everyone does it these days

Aug. 17 2011 01:49 PM
Gary from Port Washington

It seems that kids today don't either read or know history and literature in addition, they having short attention spans; they text. In the future could texting terminology become the terms for future generations or terms from "rap music"? I would also like to know your feelings on French terms that have become expressions in our language like "laissez faire."

Aug. 17 2011 01:49 PM
Gary Book from Port Washington

It seems that kids today don't either read or know history and literature in addition, they having short attention spans; they text. In the future could texting terminology become the terms for future generations or terms from "rap music"? I would also like to know your feelings on French terms that have become expressions in our language like "laissez faire."

Aug. 17 2011 01:48 PM
The Truth from Becky

OKayyeeee...caller Leslie just irritated the "shice" out of me!

Aug. 17 2011 01:47 PM
Laura from UWS

Yiddish influence again...My grandfather would have easily have said in English:

.A pair shoes, a couple grapes......

Meanwhile, "a couple hundred" sounds wrong to me...A "a few hundred" seems better because "a couple hundred" should be 200.

Aug. 17 2011 01:46 PM
Dean from Sullivan County NY

I think the recent use of meta stems from the rise of the internet. Meta information describes the content in a website. I often think that Leonard and Patricia miss this origin for current usage.

Aug. 17 2011 01:46 PM
Edward from NJ

When people say something is "meta", I've always assumed that they're abbreviating metatextual. The kids love semiotics these days. They may very well be misusing it in much the same way that people misuse the term "irony".

Aug. 17 2011 01:46 PM
Vinny_G from The Upper West Side NYC

I've always wanted to drop a Webster's unabridged dictionary on the head of people who answer questions or begin a sentence with the word: "so...."

Aug. 17 2011 01:45 PM

Maren from Bloomfield NJ

acture - "Love made them not, with acture they may be." from Shakespeare's poem "A Lover's Complaint."

Aug. 17 2011 01:43 PM
melanie belman-grossom from Branford, CT

Re Dickens:

I'm not sure if this is used anywhere else in the world, even the UK, but, in South Africa, a dressing table that has a gathered skirt of fabric from its top to the ground covering the front is known as a dolly varden after a character in Barnaby Rudge.

Aug. 17 2011 01:43 PM
Abigail Hastings from manhattan

SO at the beginning of sentence has some roots in Silicon Valley it seems.... http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/22/us/22iht-currents.html

Something I looked up after a tutorial at APPLE in which my techie teacher began EVERY sentence with "So" - I kid you not.

Aug. 17 2011 01:43 PM
Laura from UWS

PONG, meaning stinky.

Looks like it comes from Cockney rhyming slang. Ping Pong = Strong

Aug. 17 2011 01:42 PM
Bender from Manhattan

Could Ms. O'Conner discuss the first usage and elusive meaning of the phrase "Who shot John?"

Aug. 17 2011 01:42 PM
Ellen Lubell from Park Slope

Hi - I think people open with "so" to lessen the formality of what they're saying.

Use of "so" makes the comment or question more conversational, less formal, confrontational, etc.

Aug. 17 2011 01:42 PM
Laura from UWS

Why "Dear John" instead of "Dear Leonard"....

LEONARD is either John's superior officer OR LEONARD is the the man John's former girlfriend is marrying instead!!

Aug. 17 2011 01:41 PM
Dan Kulkosky from NYC

"Ponging" to mean malodorous might derive from "pongid" meaning apes in general or orangutangs in particular.

Aug. 17 2011 01:39 PM
Laura from UWS

So.....It's YIDDISH....where one starts with:

Nu? (I can't write the Yiddish intonation on a keyboard), but the oo sound sort of swoops around.

Like, ooOOOooo

Aug. 17 2011 01:38 PM
twebeck from NYC

I see many people--mostly in celebrity interviews, starting sentences with "I mean..." What is that coming from? It doesn't make any sense and it needs to stop.

Aug. 17 2011 01:38 PM
Vinny_G from Upper West Side NYC

I've always liked "sneezure" to describe a prolonged episode of nasal allergic reactivity

Aug. 17 2011 01:36 PM
chris from Southside

Is there an easy way to remember how to deal with hyphens? I omit them except when they are necessary for clarity, but are there other times when they can't me omitted? My brain locks every time I am faced with this meta-dilemma.

Aug. 17 2011 01:36 PM
Craig from Park Slope

Cloud Cuckoo Land is from Aristophanes' The Birds.

Aug. 17 2011 01:36 PM
SM_Sainted_Mother from Red Hook, Brooklyn

My family had a word for a food mill ... "dilver" ... consequently, I grew up thinking there WAS a word that rhymed with silver ...

Aug. 17 2011 01:34 PM
Margaret Ryan from Montauk

One of my favorite neologisms -- pepperiere... like sommelier, but the guy who brings the pepper mill.

Also, can you comment on the pronounciation of "flourish." I've always heard and said it flurrish, but lately I hear people on the media saying flooorish...

Please explain.

Thanks. You're great.

Margaret

Aug. 17 2011 01:34 PM
Laura from UWS

Accent on first syllable of neologism, no?

I love these segments so much!!

Ponging, in British slang, now means stiking...as in bad body odor.

Goosery sounds like what pretty women suffer at the hands of rude strangers in crowded subway cars.

Thanks.

Aug. 17 2011 01:30 PM
Claudia from Brooklyn

I always thought that the word "troop" meant a group of people, but now when referring to the fighting overseas, it seems to mean only one soldier. An example would be "six troops were killed today in Afghanistan."

Is this incorrect or has the meaning changed?

Aug. 17 2011 01:27 PM
David from West Hempstead

"Volumptuous" is another fairly amusing one.

Aug. 17 2011 01:27 PM
David from West Hempstead

"Santorum" is the best neologism.

Aug. 17 2011 01:24 PM
Bob from Neptune, NJ

Are we surrendering our rules about grammar and punctuation to computer defaults? I cringe a bit when I see a year abbreviated ('12, '08, etc) not with the correct apostrophe, but the inverted opening single quote punctuation mark, which is what most word processing programs arbitrarily change to from the apostrophe. I have noticed it mainly in TV news graphics, even PBS.

Aug. 17 2011 12:51 PM
Mark from Mount Vernon

Since "ideology" has to with ideas and "divisive" relates to dividing, why do people say ID-ee-AH-luh-gee and dih-VIH-sive or are these just affected pronunciations like elec-TORAL and may-ORAL?

Aug. 17 2011 10:32 AM
Anne Mendelson from North Bergen, NJ

Can you please comment on the "meta" epidemic? In classical Greek, this prefix simply meant "between" or "after' (Aristotle's Metaphysics was the work placed after his Physics by manuscript compilers). Lately, I seem to find "meta-" being brandished as an all-purpose token of mighty intellectual purpose, though I'm not sure WHAT purpose. Sometimes it seems to mean something like "self-referential," sometimes it just seems to be in cloud-cuckoo-land.

Aug. 17 2011 10:19 AM

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