Ben Zimmer Refudiates Fake Words

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Ben Zimmer, the On Language columnist for the New York Times Sunday Magazine, discusses recent invented words: from Sarah Palin’s recent use of the word “refudiate,” to words like "ginormous," which have become part of the popular lexicon. We’ll be taking calls!

What are some of your favorite—or least favorite—made up words? Tell us by leaving a comment!


Ben Zimmer

Comments [59]

howard richler from montreal

Some words that people regard as not really words, such as,"guesstimate" and "ginormous" are to be found in dictionaries, such as the OED.

Jul. 29 2010 01:14 PM
HMI from Brooklyn

A software instruction video for a database program I use described its ability to hold one piece of data in multiply tagged categories as "intertwingling."

Jul. 28 2010 03:44 PM

To Richard Johnston from Manhattan upper west side:
No offense, but standard American English puts the stress on the first syllable for "vagary," and it seems less of an issue if one says "lih" instead of "lee" in pronouncing the third syllable of "sacrilegious." I take issue with Brits who call the Pentagon the "Pentihgin." They may pronounce the word "pentagon" that way, but the building's the way we pronounce. If they can tell us "Gloucester" is pronounced "glowster," they can say "pentahgon." If I'm in the U.K., I might say "shedule" instead of "skedule," but ultimately we'll understand each other, and that's all that really matters to me.

Jul. 28 2010 02:44 PM
Richard Johnston from Manhattan upper west side

The Brits are also fond of the slimy verb "liaise."

Related to the discussion of the slithering of meaning are the "proper" original pronunciations of "vagary," with the stress on the second syllable, since the word is derived from Latin "vaga," or wandering, not from "vague;" and sacrilegious, the stressed third syllable being pronounced "lee," since the word is derived from "sacrilege," not from "religion." Only readers of recorded books use the original pronunciation any more.

Jul. 28 2010 02:23 PM
The Truth from Becky

A movie in fact that is older than he is!! lol

Jul. 28 2010 02:16 PM
The Truth from Becky

HARRIETT, he got it from a movie!

Jul. 28 2010 02:06 PM
Franzo from Brooklyn, NY

For me,"verbiage" pronounced without the "i" makes sense, given the pronunciation of "marriage" and "carriage."

Jul. 28 2010 02:05 PM
The Truth from Becky

Some one very close to me used to say "comfortablility" but it came out more like "comftability" ughh for the love of....used to drive me

Jul. 28 2010 02:03 PM
Challa Reno from Pine Bush, New York

I invented the word "sadamize" but it didn't catch on. It was when Sadam was still in power when he and his sons were engaged in their crual acts on their people. This was before the invasion of Iraq. In a conversation, I said "Wait till the Americans land... Sadam himself will be 'sadamized.' Did you ever hear anyone ever else use this word? I'm sure I wasn't the only one who thought of this.. It didn't require a genious during those times. Thanks.

Jul. 28 2010 02:02 PM

my fifth grade student hipped me to a word I don't know if he made it up or got it from a movie I have been using it erver since I heard it.

Exsqueeze me!! very appropriate I think

Jul. 28 2010 02:01 PM
BD Jones from NJ

Due to the recent housing debacle and the resultant foreclosure crisis, I coined the term "Newverville" hearkening back to the Hoover-era camps of the newly homeless. It hasn't caught on, but then again, neither has living in tents...

Jul. 28 2010 02:01 PM
Marian from New York, NY

I think there is a difference between deliberating coining a word and a malapropism. Sarah Palin is like Mrs. Malaprop - ignorant of what the real word is.

Jul. 28 2010 02:00 PM
Mike C. from Tribeca

A sign at the entrance to the Martian ranch in "Futurama" -- "No Breakbacking Allowed."

Jul. 28 2010 02:00 PM
The Truth from Becky

"Frenemies" is a good one and I literally LOL at "iHOLE!! that's a good one.

Jul. 28 2010 01:59 PM
john from Atlanta, Ga

Is "agita" a made up word?

It reminds me of agitate and angina.

As in stressing, when you grab your heart and say,"Enough already, you're giving me agita."

Jul. 28 2010 01:57 PM

My New Zealand wife, when extremely tired, describes herself as, "Zombonic" a play on "zombie-like." I always liked the sound of that one.

Jul. 28 2010 01:56 PM
nancy from manhattan

Proactive is icky.

Jul. 28 2010 01:55 PM
Alex from Middleton, WI

Ha how about "Scrumptralescent"... this was of course made famous by the obsequious Will Ferrell.

Jul. 28 2010 01:54 PM
lauren from NYC

Fauxfrontational - how I describe the look I give people when I want to be confrontational but I'm totally faking it.

Jul. 28 2010 01:54 PM
Chizoba from New York


A controversy that can get reversed, ie. the Shirley Sherrod scandal.

Jul. 28 2010 01:54 PM
Alex from Manhattan

Is incentivize a word? I have heard it used in the same context as incent (as a verb).

Jul. 28 2010 01:54 PM
Jane Doherty from The Bronx

I like my Ecuadorian brother-in-law's "extrenuous" for something that is particularly tasty.

I also hope to get the word "matebo" (noun) into common usage. Here is matebo in some sentences:

A cuddly granny is a matebo.
That dog is such a matebo.
He's a nice, unassuming person, a real matebo.

My nephew Max once said, when trying to define matebo, "A baby carrot can be a matebo." Exactly.

Jul. 28 2010 01:53 PM


Jul. 28 2010 01:53 PM

Fauxfrontational - how I describe the look I give people when I want to be confrontational but I'm totally faking it.

Jul. 28 2010 01:53 PM
C. Tennyson from Ridgewood, NY

My favorite that I invented is "prepocalyptic" - the state of living in a time or place before an inevitable apocalypse. In other words, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Jul. 28 2010 01:53 PM
Wendy Moscow from Flushing

My mom made up the word "angravating" in response to all those electronic menus you get when calling banks and other institutions.

Jul. 28 2010 01:53 PM
Robert Moore

Please discuss: malamanteau

Invented here:

Jul. 28 2010 01:52 PM
Jay from Norwalk ct

how about 'freinemy'

Jul. 28 2010 01:52 PM
david McGreevy from manhattan

we had a very rude and slow 'genius' at the soho apple store.
we called him an IHOLE.

Jul. 28 2010 01:52 PM
Stephanie from Irvington, NY

My children coined the word "Kasplosion" when they were little, combining the sound Kaboom with the word explosion. It has stuck in our household as a better more action-oriented word.

Jul. 28 2010 01:52 PM
Joe Mirsky

How about odorarm deunderant. Works the same. think about it.

Jul. 28 2010 01:51 PM
Ellen LoGuidice from Fairfield Ct

These are not made up but have different meanings than we think.
I have 2 teenage boys that have a language they often have to explain to me.
-"word" this means "OK" or "got it"
-"cheese" as in I'm going to "cheese out" of leave
-"peace out" means good bye
How often do these secondary meanings stick?

Jul. 28 2010 01:51 PM
Justin from Brooklyn


"Verbing weirds Language"

Jul. 28 2010 01:50 PM
K. from Madison, NJ

I'm not sure why, but I abhor the word "relatable." I have only heard it in the classroom and read in college students' papers - nowhere else. For example, students say that a person or a television program is "relatable" when they can relate to it. I do not consider it a word, and tell them so, but recently one of my students found it in an online dictionary - which one I don't recall - and of course had to show it to me, but I'm not convinced of its validity - or utility!

Jul. 28 2010 01:50 PM
Hy from Forest Hills

Exuberate is already a word. That woman's daughter has to come up with something else.

Jul. 28 2010 01:49 PM
Mike C. from Tribeca

Oops. In my previous comment I used "very ironic" when I meant to write "very apt." "Ironic" is another word that's misused all the time.

Jul. 28 2010 01:49 PM
Unheard from NYC

I work for the Gap. We (my coworkers not the company) call our corporate speak Gap-anese. Lots of initial-isms, nouns for verbs, and the singularization of plurals.

Jul. 28 2010 01:48 PM
Justin from Brooklyn

"verbing weirds english"

Jul. 28 2010 01:48 PM
Connie from nj

My favorite typo ever: admonistrator

Jul. 28 2010 01:48 PM

"verbing weirds english"

Jul. 28 2010 01:47 PM
martha from warren RI

Every time I hear sinage( Sineage?)
I wonder!

Jul. 28 2010 01:47 PM
The Truth from Becky

I would bet dollars to donuts that sarah thought she was using the correct word. I seriously doubt that she is clever enough to have made that up, she is however enough of a manipulator to weasel out of the faux pas by laughing it off and sticking other people out in front as examples as a distraction tactic.

Jul. 28 2010 01:44 PM
Aaron Mitchell from NYC

Don't forget Johnandyoko!!!!!

Jul. 28 2010 01:44 PM
john from Atlanta, Ga

my fav Simpson's wordiness was when Homer goes out to buy his daughter a "sax-a-ma-phone".

Jul. 28 2010 01:44 PM
Aaron Mitchell from NYC

Don't forget Johnandyoko!!!!!

Jul. 28 2010 01:43 PM
Dave from New Jersey

My pet peeve is the mis-use of comprise. Most people mistake it for compose and say, "comprised of..." In fact it should be use more like embrace "New York City comprises five distinct boroughs."

Jul. 28 2010 01:41 PM
The Truth from Becky

Exsqueeze me? I like that one too.

Jul. 28 2010 01:41 PM

what about verbiage and verbage?

Jul. 28 2010 01:38 PM
The Truth from Becky

"Ridonkulous" is starting up and catching on.

Jul. 28 2010 01:38 PM
The Truth from Becky

I think "conversate" will reign supreme over the words I strongly dislike!

GEO in asstoria, when exactly have you heard President Obama say that?

Jul. 28 2010 01:36 PM
Darryl Gugig from Roseland, NJ

I like Haikudiate, which is to refudiate in the form of a Haiku.

Jul. 28 2010 01:35 PM

You could say that invention of words represents a state of "normalcy."

(It bothers me that I often see "normalcy" in the NY Times.)

Jul. 28 2010 01:33 PM
geo from astoria

before Bush you would never hear "Make No Mistake About It..." now you hear it all the time from everyone. Even Obama.

Jul. 28 2010 01:33 PM
Mike C. from Tribeca

Mr. Zimmer's use of the the 1925 Atlanta Constitution headline about the Teapot Dome scandal on his website is very ironic in itself, since that was when the oil companies literally bought the Republican Party.

Jul. 28 2010 01:32 PM
Jeremy from New York Cit

I have a hard time believing that Palin invented this "word," in the sense that she knowingly coined it as a joining of repudiate and refute. Her trying to defend her actions by comparing herself to Shakespeare is just the kind of stretching and mangling and shrugging off of responsibility (and once again a smack at intellectualism) we've come to expect from her.

Jul. 28 2010 01:31 PM
DarkSymbolist from NYC

"It's obvious it isn't a mistake if you keep on using it", not really. She may have thought that was a real word (or meant repudiate) until she was called out on it and then backtracked "I made it up"

She's a simpleton so I think that scenario is likely.

Jul. 28 2010 01:30 PM
Caterina from Brooklyn

As the mom of twins, all you have to do is visit any twin related online forum to encounter made up words like twinadoes, twinmeggedon, twinspiration, twinvention & twingenuity. For the visual effect and for the reality of twin toddlers, my favorite, by far, is Twinadoes.

Jul. 28 2010 12:34 PM
Hy from Forest Hills

I don't want to say what I think of Sarah Palin, other than I have no use for her. However, I kind of like that compounding of the words "refute/refuse" and "repudiate," even though it's entirely unnecessary. It has flow. It feels good. It comes out naturally (apparently), and the meanings go together. As far as some of her other gaffes, this one aint so bad.

Other words I like:
splendiferous (which I think is actually 3 words compounded)
and of course,

Jul. 28 2010 12:11 PM

What? He has a problem with Truthiness?

Jul. 28 2010 11:27 AM

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