Mighty Red Pen

August 13, 2008

Making up is hard to do

Filed under: Word wars,Wordsworthy — mighty red pen @ 7:53 pm
Tags: ,

MRP here just catching up on some post-vacation reading, including a guest column by the aforementioned Erin McKean, who is of the mind those of us who might get in a twist about made-up sounding words should just, well, chillax:

Whenever I see “not a real word” used to stigmatize what is (usually) a perfectly cromulent word, I wonder why the writer felt the need to hang a big sign reading “I am not confident about my writing” on it. What do they imagine the penalty is for using an “unreal” word? A ticket from the Dictionary Police? The revocation (as the joke goes) of your poetic license? A public shaming by William Safire? The irony is that most of these words, without the disclaimer, would pass unnoticed by the majority of readers. (In case you noticed cromulent, that was invented in the 1990s for “The Simpsons.”)

She goes on:

[W]riters are giving up one of their inalienable rights as English speakers: the right to create new words as they see fit. Part of the joy and pleasure of English is its boundless creativity: I can describe a new machine as bicyclish, I can say that I’m vitamining myself to stave off a cold, I can complain that someone is the smilingest person I’ve ever seen, and I can decide, out of the blue, that fetch is now the word I want to use to mean “cool.” By the same token, readers and listeners can decide to adopt or ignore any of these uses or forms.

McKean invokes a few “wordish” words you might be familiar with (or familiar with cringing at, if that’s your bag): impactful, chillaxing, wackaloon, noirish, and huger, for starters.

Read the rest of “Chillax: If It Works Like a Word, Just Use It.”

In the meantime, all of this chatter brought to mind this strip from Overcompensating, recently invoked by our friends from Language Is the People’s (during an engaging discussion on Editrix about a word that is not made up but possibly banishable) for its use of another reviled made-up word: celebutante.

Do you eschew or embrace wordish words? This editutante (Paris Hilton, eat your heart out) invites you to share your faves.



  1. Non-words/terms I HATE:
    brung –I have been driven to just-this-side-of murderous rage over the use of “brung”!
    closure –My mom died in February and I hate this word more than ever now. Just what the hell is “closure” supposed to signify???
    pimp (adjective) –I have threatened to send my teenage sons to school dressed as Huggy Bear if they don’t stop saying “pimp”.
    expresso –WHY must I hear this from the person IN FRONT OF ME at the Starbucks when I am still in pre-coffee mode? It makes me think of breast milk every single time.
    bacne or fugly –These are just plain mean.

    Non-words/terms I LOVE:
    boobage (noun) –def. What I constantly try to keep decently contained inside woefully inadequate undergarments.
    asshat –Ya just can’t find a better word for a person with his head stuck right up his ass.
    fixin’ to (verb) –I’m from Texas. We all use this one.
    Bob –This is the name/term our Hispanic family uses when one does something idiotic. Bob’s last name is Oso. If you speak Spanish, you’ll get it.
    Commie –My dad is old school (wait, there’s another non-term!) and still uses this as his most vehement epithet. He cracks me up.
    nunja –What my kids call a particularly strict nun.
    editutante –The newest addition to my list!

    Comment by Cuz_I'm_the_Mom — August 13, 2008 @ 9:19 pm | Reply

  2. Are the ladies of Go Fug Yourself (http://gofugyourself.celebuzz.com) the reigning queens of celebutaunts?

    Comment by Fritinancy — August 13, 2008 @ 10:14 pm | Reply

  3. I love the word chillax. To me it seems to convey that person needs to do so much more than just chill or relax. By combining the words, in my opinion, it has a stronger connotation.

    Comment by Joy — August 13, 2008 @ 11:06 pm | Reply

  4. Speaking of words one’s dad used as a pejorative:

    I don’t know for sure how to spell it, but my dad used to call disrespectful teenage boys “hanyahks.” I heard someone else use it elsewhere, to describe the same sort of jerk, but I’ve never heard it again.

    I don’t get upset about stuff like “impactful” (though I think it’s graceless and would not want to see it in narrative copy that crossed my desk) or “bicyclish” (which sounds fun to me and might actually make it through in jocular copy)–those are “made” words, using the ordinary mechanisms of the English language.

    My daughter used to make up words from thin air–one I still like to use it “fenifidy”–chores to do, stuff that needs to get done.

    I kind of like guesstimate, but it gets overused really easily. And I would reserve it for a particularly flippant mood.

    Comment by TootsNYC — August 14, 2008 @ 3:29 pm | Reply

  5. […] public links >> mighty Making up is hard to do First saved by jski | 3 days […]

    Pingback by Recent Faves Tagged With "mighty" : MyNetFaves — August 18, 2008 @ 4:30 pm | Reply

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