Our lovely silly words..Pauline Chandler

(1-A. 2-A. 3-B. 4-B. 5-B. 6-A. 7-A. 8-A. 9-A. 10- A. I'll explain later). 

Did you catch Stephen Fry on Radio 2 recently, talking about words?

He’s something of an expert having worked on a series of programmes about plain English. His main point this time was that, unlike more regimented languages, English is constantly evolving, to embrace how people actually use words. I hadn’t really thought about it, that dictionaries record usage rather than dictating the rules. What a great example of honouring creativity! How sensible!

Fry pointed out this aspect of our beautiful language, when he was asked if he really was the creator of the term ‘luvvie’ for an actor sort of person. The OED lists him as the first person to use the word.  Fry quoted another example of his creating a word that has entered common usage, with his friend Hugh Laurie. The word was ‘spoffle’, to described the muffler spongy bit which is placed on the end of a microphone during recording. He was thrilled when, on a separate occasion, he heard a technician ask for one.

‘Spoffle’ and ‘luvvie’; they’re such lovely silly words, aren’t they? When my children were small, I had affectionate nicknames for them, ‘Spodger’, ‘Billy Bodget’ or, sometimes, ‘Fanackerpan’, though, I'm not sure I actually made that one up. When you go into it, there are plenty of lovely silly words in English. We’ve been making them up for centuries. Hooray, I say! Callooh Callay!
Quiz: Here are ten super silly words in English. All you have to do is decide which is the correct meaning.  Answers above!

1.  Mugwump –        A. Politician           B. Mythical bog monster  

2.  Taradiddle –        A. Fib.                  B. Feather  

3.  Pottle –              A. Small stain.        B.  A container for strawberries

4.  Firkin –               A. Small keg.         B. Large barrel

5.  Skedaddle –       A. Small side saddle for a child. B. To leave, guiltily, in a 
6.   Blunderbuss –    A.  Old weapon.       B. Clumsy kiss

7.   Flibbertigibbet – A.  Flighty person.    B. Hastily erected gallows

8.   Whiffler –          A. Attendant who cleared the way for the monarch. 
                              B. Fictional creature mentioned in ‘The Jabberwocky’.

9.    Wuffler –           A.  Haymaking machine to fluff up the hay. B. Dog's scarf. 

10.  Boggler -           A. Mystifying puzzle.  B. Small swamp-dwelling mammal.

Before I leave you for this month, I looked up the OED’s list of new words for 2014.

bae n. used as a term of endearment for one’s romantic partner.

budtender n. a person whose job is to serve customers in a cannabis dispensary or shop.

contactless adj. relating to or involving technologies that allow a smart card, mobile phone, etc. to contact wirelessly to an electronic reader, typically in order to make a payment.

indyref, n. an abbreviation of ‘independence referendum’, in reference to the referendum on Scottish independence, held in Scotland on 18 September 2014, in which voters were asked to answer yes or no to the question ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’

normcore n. a trend in which ordinary, unfashionable clothing is worn as a deliberate fashion statement.

slacktivism, n., informal actions performed via the Internet in support of a political or social cause but regarded as requiring little time or involvement, e.g. signing an online petition or joining a campaign group on a social media website; a blend of slacker and activism.

The winner was ‘Vape’= ‘to inhale and exhale the vapour produced by an electronic cigarette or similar device’, while both the device and the action can also be known as a vape 

Mmm, I'm not sure 'vape' has any staying power. Last year’s was ‘selfie’. That seems to have caught on. 

Pauline Chandler


Jan Needle said…
can't allow you fanackerpan, i'm afraid. me old man called almost everyone his old fanackerpan from time to time! fun, eh?
Nick Green said…
I loathe 'contactless'. It wins the prize for the clumsiest neologism. I would have called it a tap-card, a touchfree card, or perhaps an offhand card.
Had a feeling I'd picked that up from somewhere, Jan!
Nick, I hate all these new words, especially vape. Sounds vapid!
Lydia Bennet said…
I enjoyed your post a lot Pauline, though I love new words, many of them are basically portmanteau words but English is very flexible in this way. 'Vaping' will go on as long as people do it I suppose! It's better than 'smoking an electronic 'cigarette' which isn't really and need not contain nicotine'. After all the old words were new once, they arise to fill a need or are nicked from elsewhere. New technologies bring new words, however they also use roots from ancient mythologies and languages too. The use of Protocol in computing (as in the P in IP address) was based on ancient Greek for the first leaf glued to a ms describing the contents. Trojan, for a type of malware (there's another one!) from the Trojan Horse etc.
Nick Green said…
Like Pauline, I'm not sure that forced portmanteau words like 'slacktivism' should really count, as they are more like one-off journalistic witticisms than genuine evolutions of language. On the other hand, most of the words in The Meaning Of Liff definitely deserve to become official. Like 'trunch' - instinctive resentment of people younger than you.
Bill Kirton said…
Words are endlessly fascinating, entertaining, surprising and umpteen other adjectives (and states of mind). The only trick you missed here, Pauline, is challenging us to write a flash fiction piece using as many of your 'super silly' words as possible.
Had a feeling I'd picked that up from somewhere, Jan!
Nick, I hate all these new words, especially vape. Sounds vapid!
I love that first meaning of protocol, Lynda. We owe the Greeks so much, but we forget, unless someone reminds yes from time to time, so thank you for that?
Nick, thank you! You've promoted me to read The M of Liff again. Love 'trunch'. No, spellcheck! Stop it!
Go on then, Bill! Ha ha!
Lee said…
'Genuine evolution of language' depends mostly on which words manage to stick around. Hating neologisms strikes me as odd for a writer. The problem, as I see it, is deciding which ones are likely to date your writing prematurely.

William Gibson managed a remarkable feat with his coinage of 'cyberspace'. So I'm with Lydia on this one.
Lee said…
BTW, I'm amused to have just discovered -- after googling, itself an inescapable neologism these days -- that it was Lewis Carroll who repurposed 'portmanteau' for us to now love or hate.
Enid Richemont said…
LOVED this post, and just shared the quiz with a very bright but aged friend who has Altzheimers - she got eight out of ten!!

Here's one you won't have heard of. My IT husband, David, was always complaining about the bugs in the programs he was developing, so I drew them, gave them a name, and even invented an illustrated mythology for them. They are called 'Squinks'.
Love 'Squinks', Enid.
Dennis Hamley said…
Jan, I don't think 'Fernackapan' was your dad's. It started with 'Fred Fernackapan', a character invented by the Goons who never actually appeared. I bet that's where he got it from.
Susan Price said…
Do squinks eat gremlins?
Ann Turnbull said…
I love your new definitions of blunderbuss and flibbertigibbet!
Scots has many wonderful words which might be more widely used: dreich (perfect description for today's grim, damp and depressing weather, gallus (a combination of bold, cheeky and reckless, characteristic of many Glaswegians) scunnered - which I am right now - and so many more. I grew up in Leeds but it was only recently, so many years after we left, that I found out that the item I always think of as a 'winter edge' and others call a 'maiden' - a clothes horse - was actually a 'winter hedge' - sometimes called a winter dyke in Scotland - from the habit of drying the washing draped over the hedge. I'd never even thought about it. Don't you just love language?
Thank you,lovely writers, for all the info I'm learning here! Fred Fernackapan, Dennis! And we still use the word. Amazing!
I think squinks eat glitches too, Sue. They all live together on the same street in Bumble Town. Ha ha!
Ann, I'm so pleased you noticed those definitions! Had great fun with that little quiz.
Catherine, those are such wonderful Scots words. I'm a bit scunnered today too, after busy weekend, or was it the gin? Love 'winter hedge' . Pure poetry.
madwippitt said…
So disappointed to learn that a wuffler isn't a doggish scarf!

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