Monday, July 31, 2006


Language creativity

Responding to my post yesterday, Tonya muses about whether she has just coined the term "cringeworthy." Well, in fact, she admits that she did:
Turns out that I did make up that term -- Ira [Glass] does use the term cringe-a-thon, however -- but I'm not gonna pat myself on the back too much. I think that ever since that Spongeworthy episode of Seinfeld, it's been common for people (or at least me) to add "worthy" as a suffix to existing words to create a new word that describes whether some thing qualifies for some other thing.
Putting a new word into American lingo has been a goal of mine for many years. Remember, I tried to launch "eyedar" using this blog and its 40-50 regular readers as a vehicle. People had uttered "eyedar" in the past, but not to mean the uncanny ability of women to detect when their male companion is checking out another woman. But my "launch" of "eyedar" doesn't seem to have worked so far. It's not easy to invent a new word, particularly if you're not a high profile person.

I used to believe I had invented the word "megabucks." I used the word in a college newspaper column in the late 1970s, several years before the word became popular (during the 1980s Wall Street boom). I swear to this day that I had never previously heard or read the term. And the term "mega" stuck in front of an English word wasn't really popular back in the 1970s. But then I found in some lexicography or etymology book that there was a printed use of the "megabucks" dating back to 1948.

Anyway, getting back to Tonya and her new word: Nowadays, if you think you may have invented a word, it's handy to Google it. The absence of a word on Google doesn't prove that the word is not in use, but its presence on Google might tell you the opposite. A Google search for "cringeworthy" yields 174,000 results.

Tonya, I hope that doesn't make you cringe, or even wince. As Mr. Verb pointed out in your comments, you undoubtedly went through the same creative process as those other 174,000 people -- like Newton and Liebniz independently discovering calculus at the same time.

As you no doubt know, Oscar, 'eyedar' gets some 'g-hits' (as hipper folks calls the results of a google search.) That word is for me like Colbert's 'truthiness' (the American Dialect Society's current word of the year, of course) -- it's a word I love, but find a hard time using.

You just gotta get eyedar into high schools.

But Tonya's word, I'm still pondering that one ...
If 174,000 people were to create a new word at the same time, that would be quite an extraordinary wordgasm.

Note that wordgasm is in the Urban Dictionary, but it doesn't include my definition -- the simultaneous creation of a new word by two or more people.
Oscar, how quickly you forget that you and I came up with the "new" usage for the mathematical word Googleplex to refer to a multiplex cinema, shortly after they became a ubiquitous feature of the suburban landscape, sometime during our high school days. Obviously, we weren't the only ones, since it was a joke on Futurama, but you heard it here first!

olqva - (1) A woman's name, common in the Scandanavian penninusla. (2) A Klingon toast (3) the old kiva.
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