It’s been a stressful, melancholy week, and my writing routine is waiting for an appointment with the Biro-practor (biro n.- a British word for pens which is derived from a brand of ballpoint). I’m feeling a little like piglet, when he was trapped by the flood. He said, “It’s a little anxious to be a very small animal entirely surrounded by water.” Eventually piglet found a way out of his predicament, as I will with mine, but in the meantime dear reader, you’ll have to bear with me.
On Sunday, Janis and I were part of a Culture Days event, sponsored by WCYR, called “The Writing Games.” The premise of the event was that writing doesn’t have to be done in solitude, and it doesn’t have to be serious, and as it turned out, sometimes it can even be competitive. We had three tables of participants who competed for prizes in events like “define that word” and “group speed-crossword competition.”
As part of the program, I did some research on sniglets. This term, attributed to comedian Rich Hall, refers to words that don’t exist, but should. Here are a few great examples:
Cheeriomagnetism – the quality of cereal that causes the last five Cheerios in the bowl to clump together
Expresshole –n. A person who goes through the grocery store’s 12-item express lane with 22 items.
Some of our participants were able to create some great sniglets on their own, under pressure, without any time to prepare. We gave them this definition: When you go somewhere, then upon arrival, forget why you went there. The answer we had was “destinesia” but Glenna came up with “questination” which was every bit as good. (There was another good one, which I neglected to write down and have, sadly, forgotten). Snigloss?
A more technical term for the genus of words that encompasses sniglets is the neologism, which is a broad term for new words. Some neologisms are cultural artefacts that start out on popular sitcoms or movies and eventually end up being added to the Oxford dictionary (every upstart word dreams of going to Oxford). Examples in recent years include “Doh!” (I use it a lot), selfies, and buzzkills. Writers create neologisms all the time. Dr. Suess invented the words grinch and nerd and Shakespeare is credited with inventing over 1700 words by changing the grammatical forms of words (e.g. nouns into verbs), combining words in new ways, adding prefixes and suffixes or making up entirely new words. [i] Neologisms are the subject of great debate within linguistic circles, and there are those who argue against the creation of new words when there are old words which might do just as well. But we are creative little monkeys, and we like shiny new words. As well, new objects and discoveries come into existence all the time and have to be given names: Wireless, for example, or iphones, or botox.
Every generation yields teenage expressions that change the meaning of the words we use. I’ve been informed by my nieces that things that are admirable or desirable are now known as “sick.” In my day they were “cool.” But “cool” is now “lame.” I cite this fact because I think it is interesting and useful, whenever you are looking up a word, to use a dictionary that provides some etymology, because the meanings of words have a tendency to be unstable. The word luxury for example, used to have a very negative connotation and was used pejoratively to refer to people who were “lascivious, sinful and self-indulgent.”[ii]
The word Zen is undergoing a similar transformation. Recently I spoke to a friend who wanted to get into building luxury Zen apartments. As someone conversant with the practice and culture of Zen Buddhism I couldn’t get past the oxymoron here. It’s like jumbo shrimp, or nuclear safety (lol), the words are inherently contradictory. But Zen is being used in our culture as a synonym for “peaceful” without the inclusion of the simplicity, starkness, and rejection of luxury that traditionally would be included in its meaning. It seems that language, like life, is always subject to impermanence and change. We can argue against it or we can embrace it. I have chosen to go with the flow, which brings me to a new word that I would like to bring forth into the world:
Wriglet (n.) -1. a rambling blog post that fails to have a clear narrative line or theme as a result of its author being a small anxious animal surrounded by metaphorical water.
2. lines of text composed by the cat, as he changes his position on your keyboard.
Have you invented any sniglets? We’d love to hear about them in the comments. Until next time,
We’re looking forward to hosting our first writing retreat of the 2013-2014 season on October 6th. There are still two spaces available.
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[i] Mabillard, Amanda. Words Shakespeare Invented Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. (30 September 2013) < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/biography/wordsinvented.html >.
Photo credits: I am unable to track the source of the melon collie photo, other than to say it’s been making its way around facebook for months. The beaver came from Compfight, but the source code did not make an appearance in the usual places.