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25 March 2009

Not Quite Tom Wolfe

It isn't quite as piquant as the Daily Candy's A to Z either but so far, I'm enjoying the new NY Times blog of Ben Schott (the self-styled master of miscellany whose first compendium came about eight years too late for my pre-internet, listaphiliac younger self), Schott's Vocab. Each day, he reports the coining of a new--and topical--phrase. Yesterday, for example, it was the turn of the Nag WAGs (wives and girlfriends of jockeys), which is quite cute, though I think I prefer extensions of the word WAG that substitute the W or the G for other letters. 

Of course, they aren't all supposed to evoke a chuckle or a smirk--corrective rape, for example, is far too grim to be found in a Tom Wolfe novel. Others, like the Sin Express and Pet-ernity Leave are neat, self-contained nuggets giving an insight into the bizarreness of American culture.

As for the morphology of these neologisms, there is quite a lot of variety amid the expected creativity. Rom-Comster, say, takes the doubly-elided rom-com and adds the suffix -ster, which used to be found only in words like monster (and, I guess, Roadster) but thanks in part to Friendster has become increasingly popular. Others borrow from other languages and cultures, sometimes applying an anglicising affix or combining with an existing English word (Financial Götterdämmerung, anyone? Nomunication is quite nice too).

In fact, some of these neologisms are clever or apt enough to feature on the various Word of the Year lists. If I were making the lists, anyway. Last year's OUP WOTY was hypermiling, which was OK but so many of the words on the shortlists were a) too political for my tastes, b) clunky and c) just not clever enough. I would award points for linguistic creativity and pithiness above the timeliness of the neologism and the importance of the issues the word describes; style over substance, any day!

Then again, what would I know with my BA (soon to be MA) in linguistics and my inability to get either SIP or ToCoRo to catch on! My words just don't have the FUDGE factor, obviously...


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