Sunday, 17 September 2017

The Ins and Outs of Words by Elizabeth Kay


Some years ago Bob Newman had a poem published which included the word ‘rescous’. It isn't in First Frush, but there are lots of other clever and funny poems in there. The poem concerned was a sestina, with the additional complication of anagrams for the final words which are repeated in a different order at the end of each line. The poem was spotted by  George Chowdhary Best who was part of a committee deciding on which words were to be dropped from the OED. George produced the poem as proof that the word was still in current use. It was subsequently retained. This is the poem plus its introduction: (with permission).

"Rescous" is, or was, "the illegal recovery of one's own goods after they have been seized by bailiffs but before they have been impounded". When they are recovered after they have been impounded, the crime is not "rescous" but "poundbreach". A few years ago a report from the National Consumer Council recommended that these crimes be removed from the statute book; I don't know whether the government did as they were told.

Robinson’s Jam

I sing of Robinson, a doughty scouser,
A connoisseur of pubs, and of race courses,
A member of the Bootle clan of Crusoes,
A man of wealth to rival that of Croesus,
(Or leave it far behind him, say some sources)
Who found himself unjustly charged with rescous.

A most unusual crime these days is rescous,
"And one I didn't do," protests our scouser.
He goes off to consult his legal sources,
Who though they learnt from correspondence courses
Know quite enough to get as rich as Croesus
From fleecing clients like the Bootle Crusoes.

But they are baffled by this case of Crusoe's.
"Search me! I've never heard of bloody rescous!"
"Still, take the case. That Crusoe's Bootle's Croesus."
So have misfortunes doubled for our scouser,
His fate now at the whim of those whose courses
Were postal, not the best of legal sources?

According to more reputable sources,
When bailiffs take away some goods - say Crusoe's -
To nick them back is not the best of courses
For then you're likely to be charged with "rescous"
(Or "poundbreach", if you're slower than our scouser).
So will his learned friends save Bootle's Croesus?

Well no, for Crusoe's read about old Croesus:
"Be practical, not ethical", say sources
Of ancient wisdom, well-known to our scouser,
And so he showers money from the Crusoes
Upon the jury trying him for rescous.
"And if they ask, you won it at race courses."

Although it's not the lawfullest of courses,
It's how the law works, if you're rich as Croesus.
Don't worry, if you're charged with fraud, or rescous -
Enrich twelve good true men from secret sources
And that will save the good name of the Crusoes.
Now hear the foreman, who's another scouser:

"This scouser who is twice as rich as Croesus,
"Got so at horsey courses, say our sources,
"So Crusoe's clearly innocent of rescous."

And so from archaisms to neologisms – newly-coined words or expressions. Most of them are to do with computers.

To Google – I think we all know what this means.
App – not sure whether the youth of today are even aware that this is short for application.
Crowdsourcing – getting lots of people to pay for you to publish your book…
Hashtag – a word or phrase preceded by a hash sign (#), used mainly on Twitter by Donald Trump.
Meme – coined by Richard Dawkins to describe ideas that evolve and proliferate the way genes do.
Geek – originally a circus performer who bit the heads off live chickens.
Chillax – something all authors need to do now and again (also a portmanteau word, of course. I’ll deal with those later...

There are many occasions when a writer needs to invent a word, especially if they dabble in fantasy or SF.

This is the way I went about it in my alternative world in The Divide. I needed to come up with names for a number of mythical/magical/purely invented creatures, as well as their given names. I tried to suggest each creature by combining different characteristics – a japegrin (mischievous pixie) starts from a jape, which is a practical joke, and a grin is the joker’s facial expression when he or she is watching the result. I liked the idea of ragamuckies being the opposite of what brownies are in this world (sprites, originally from Scotland, who tidy people’s homes in the middle of the night), because there wouldn’t be any human houses to clean. Rags suggest ragged clothing, and mucky for dirty. A lickit reminds you of ice cream, or candy – and lickits are cooks specialising in magical sweets.
A sinistrom is very close to the word sinister. The tangle-folk are elves, who were once identified by their very tangled hair. When it came to the names of the characters, rather than the names of the species, I tended to use themes. All the tangle-folk and japegrins are named after plants – Betony is a pinky-purple flower, and an ancient medicinal plant used in herbal remedies. Snakeweed is a pink flower, also known as Bistort. For the brazzles (griffins), I combined the name of something hard or sharp with a body part – Ironclaw, Thornbeak, Flintfeather, and for the brittlehorns (unicorns)
I used something that suggested a pale silvery colour – Pewtermane, Milklegs, Chalky. The one-off names weren’t accidental, either. Leona, of course, suggests the lion part of a sphinx. Turpsik (a female cyclops, with a penchant for poetry and dance) is an abbreviated form of the muse of dance, Terpsichore.  

Portmanteau Words:
The term portmanteau was first used by Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass:
“Well, ‘slithy’ means “lithe and slimy” and ‘mimsy’ is “flimsy and miserable”. You see it’s like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word.”
Interestingly, the word portmanteau itself is also a blend of two different words: porter (to carry) and manteau (a cloak).

Some of them have become so familiar that we’re unaware of their origins:

email (electronic/mail): Us oldies still think of it as electronic mail – I doubt that the younger generation does!
bionic (biology/electronic): artificial body parts that have been enhanced by technology.
brunch (breakfast/lunch): a meal that is eaten after breakfast but before lunch.
dumbfound (dumb/confound): Greatly astonish or amaze.
ginormous (giant/enormous): large, huge.
modem (modulation/demodulation): an electronic device that makes possible the transmission of data to or from a computer via telephone or other communication lines.
smog (smoke/fog): a form of air pollution that has the qualities of both smoke and fog.
workaholic (work/alcoholic): an individual who works excessive hours.
banoffee (banana/toffee)
alcopop (alcohol/pop)

Others still seem strange:

babymoon (baby/honeymoon): denotes a certain enthusiasm on the wedding night
guyliner (guy/eyeliner): eyeliner for men
hazmat (hazardous/material)
listicle (list/article): bit like this, really
ecoteur (ecological/saboteur)
bankster (banker/gangster)
frogurt (frozen/yogurt)
frolf (Frisbee/golf): How on earth does that work?
Cosplay (costume/play): wearing costumes and accessories that resemble those of characters from various forms of popular culture.
insinuendo (insinuation/innuendo)

Although I tend to be a bit of a stickler for correct spelling, grammar and punctuation, I can’t resist making up words every so often. Have you come up with any goodies?



5 comments:

madwippitt said...

What a fun post! And such a clever poem - that must have been headbangingly hard to put together!
We used to have a pair of clients at the riding school who we referred to as the Snotgobbles, and my family loved the Aussie Stickybeak, but not responsible for any new ones ... a friend did come up with Thullawuds which we used a lot at school, and it has just been dusted off recently and brought shyly blinking back out into the light of day ...

Wendy Jones said...

This was so much fun and has me reaching for my pen. I'm off to make up some words. Thanks for this

Bob Newman said...

Getting new words into circulation is hard. For decades now I've been trying to popularise "throth" (like "both", but for three things), but I still haven't heard anybody else use it.
Karen's own post from last week is about neologisms too, and deserves more support. (Not that I particularly want to win that brooch - I don't think it would suit me.)

Elizabeth Kay said...

I love Snotgobbles - and what was the Aussie Stickybeak? Is it in the same family as my bird in The Divide - the lesser spotted tease?

Umberto Tosi said...

I enjoyed this trip through word-land with relish. I find naming characters and imagined entities always daunting. You remind us that it though it be challenging, it's also play, and that's the thing.