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Posts tagged ‘language’

Throw Out the Dictionary

Language is funny. And I don’t just mean those unusual words that all comedy writers know will elicit a smile or a giggle – words such as caddywumpus, pantaloons, spelunker, wenis, and zamboni. And if you imagine a spelunker in pantaloons riding a zamboni, just try not to crack up until you’re sitting caddywumpus on the floor.

Accidentally making up words is a favorite pastime of mine. For example, I recently co-emceed a dog run when I said we’d be giving an award for the dog with the “swaggiest” tail. Clearly I meant “waggiest,” but some dogs’ tails hang in a drooping curve as they wag, so I think “swaggliest” is a fine addition to the English language. Much better than, say, “twerk,” which as far as I’m concerned means “throw you back out doing something stupid.” I don’t consider myself a mis-speaker; I’m a language development leader.

In recent years, dictionary editors (those dusty folk with smudged John Lennon glasses and permanent scowls — or so I imagine them) have had to kowtow (another excellent and funny word) to the hoi polloi and accept such words as bling, bromance, chillax, d’oh, infomania, jeggings, and mankini. At the same time, other words that had been common have disappeared. What ever happened to malagrug (a dismal person), brabble (a noisy squabble over nothing), or supererogate (to do more than is expected or required)? I guess with the latter, there are so few people who fit the category, we substituted “slacker,” a word that means the opposite.

A lot of the words and phrases we used when I was younger have gone the way of the Sharovipteryx (dinosaurs so obscure than no one has heard of them). I remember “kyping” things with my friends. “Kype” was a word that meant to “pilfer,” but to us, it meant “stealing something of so little value it will probably go unnoticed by our parents.” If we were accused of the crime, we would bug out until the Fickle Finger of Fate eventually caught up with us and we were grounded in our pad.

As a wordie myself (imagine a foodie, only with language instead of edibles), I have a list of words I’d like added to dictionaries everywhere. These include (I do have more):

  • Addendumb – Anyone who reads books from cover to cover, including the copyright registration and addendum in order to quell an abiding fear than they aren’t as smart as they let on.
  • Aprius – Any car stuck behind a Prius.
  • Bathematics – Quick calculations of how much weight wet hair adds before stepping on the bathroom scale.
  • Deppth – A thorough and complete understanding of the subtext of the movies of Johnny Depp.
  • Dispurrage — To demean and belittle all of humankind, especially those nearby, for not attending to your feline’s needs quickly enough.
  • Flingerie – Flannel lingerie; very popular in the Pacific Northwest.
  • Fobia – Phear of things that aren’t spelled like they sound.
  • Gendrification – The manner in which women will take over the world.
  • Gloatee – One who experiences euphoria upon realizing that yet another hipster trend has gone the way of the too-tight skinny jean.
  • Palindrone – A professor whose lectures sound the same forwards and backwards.
  • Schadenfriend – Someone who only likes you when your life is awful.
  • Silly string theory — The hypothesis that the universe consists of random acts of silliness connected by invisible strings that don’t stick to your clothes
  • Snee – An incomplete sneeze.
  • Zumbarrassment – The feeling that comes over anyone trying to follow Zumba moves for the first time.

Okay, maybe some of these are too silly to impress the fine people at Merriam-Webster, so I have a more serious request. You may want to sit down for this if you’re somewhat set in your ways when it comes to language… Are you sitting? Okay, here goes! Can we all agree that from this day forward, we’re copacetic with the use of “they, them, and their” as both singular and plural pronouns? If it was good enough for Shakespeare, it should be good enough for those of us raised on comic books and whatever’s on the back of a cereal box.

There are so many good reasons for my request. For one, the singular “they” helps writers avoid the unpleasant and clunky use of he/she, s/he, or “You know what I mean, so fill in your own #&%@ pronoun!” It’s also friendly and inclusive of all people, including those whose gender identity isn’t as clear cut as the words “he and she” would have us believe.

Another advantage: We could all stop referring to animals as “it!” We can use the singular “they.” Because you know and I know that our dogs and cats and hamsters and goats are not the same as our sofas and shot glasses and cellphones and hemorrhoid cream. They’re people just like the rest of us.

What do you say, you wordies, you grammarians, you Brazilnuttians (my word for those who are tough nuts to crack)? If we can accept new words such as selfie, blobfish, humblebrag, and mansplain, why not the thoroughly practical and easy-to-pronounce “they”?

One last advantage: I’m going to start using the singular they, so if you don’t want to get your undies all caddywumpus, join me on the Shakespearean side.