Thursday, October 2, 2014
You know how, as you get older, more and more often the wrong word pops up while you’re speaking, and you accidentally say silly things like “Hold on, I have to charge up my refrigerator” or “Honey, is there any OJ in the laptop?” (For you college young-uns out there, just keep sucking down those beer bongs and nasty pink Smirnoff things and you’ll experience this phenomenon soon enough.)
It’s embarrassing, but there’s a silver lining. Sometimes the wrong word is really the right word in the wrong context, like when you say “OJ in the laptop” and do the “Oops—duh!” thing, but immediately follow it with, “Oh yeah, that reminds me, I gotta charge up my laptop!” Maybe it’s self-regulating behavior, of a subconscious sort. (Um, yeah, OK—never mind. Maybe I’m just getting old and loopy.)
Then there’s the conscious strategy of making up new words for things that really need a word but don’t have one. 20th-century comedian Rich Hall made a career out of this. He called them “sniglets” and defined them as “any word that doesn’t appear in the dictionary, but should.” Sniglets were generally amusing, and often quite useful in naming things that were nearly universally recognizable but for whatever reason were left without a linguistic identity—like the runny stuff that comes out of the mustard bottle before the mustard does, a substance for which Mr. Hall helpfully coined the term “musquirt.”
I’ve been spewing neologisms for years, mostly just for fun (my wrong-word brain fart could be a “word turd”, like strolling along the sentence sidewalk and stopping short when you step in something soft and squishy), but I find them increasingly useful in these darkening days. As our societal consciousness drifts further and further from reality, we need new words to describe the great leaps of faith and lapses in logic that guide our megamodern world. And, as good as Mr. Hall was at this game—the greatest of all time—a lot of his sniglets are decidedly dated, because they often covered phenomena that were new at the time but are now thoroughly anachronistic.
In the spirit of reviving and renewing this honorable field of study, let’s start with “automoron”, which I define as “a person who is thoroughly brainwashed by car culture and automatically says something stupid whenever the subject of transportation policy arises.” This one came to mind recently as I read a comment thread about the city’s decision to shut down southbound traffic at the 4th Avenue underpass during peak hours on weekends to alleviate dangerous and annoying congestion at the intersection of 4th, Congress, Toole, and Broadway. (Note to transportation planners: Anytime you have four different streets converging in the same place, you can expect trouble—let’s call that one a “clustertruck.”)
The automorons were incensed and inflamed, weighing in with such brilliant observations as “I thought they wanted to attract people to downtown,” as if this hopelessly overcrowded intersection were the only way to get downtown, and pedestrians—you know, people, the shadowy shapes you see behind non-tinted car windows—actually enjoyed having their lives threatened and lungs and ears polluted by 2000-pound death machines.
You might as well post a comment saying “Ohmygawd, I’m way too stupid to follow the signs, not to mention all the other traffic, and go two blocks away to get into downtown by a more logical path, and jeez, I might end up having to walk an extra block or two to get where I’m going even though I’m waayyy too fat and lazy for that, and besides, isn’t this America, where fossil-fueled internal combustion trumps all rational thought?!”
There are other ways to employ this neological convention. You can replace an acronym with more appropriate words—e.g., rather than the official words for “ISIS” (whatever the FARC that means), you could say “Insinuating Scare-tactics Invented by Senators” or “Idiots Suckered by Inflammatory Sensationalism.” Similarly, “NFL” could be updated to “Nitwits Flogging Lesser-thans” or “Not For Law-abiders” or even “National Forensics League.”
The possibilities are endless. In this season of political campaigns and unclear identities (they go hand in hand around election time), you could rename the candidates. “Martha McSilly”, who has no recollection whatsoever of her positions on any of the issues, but can’t wait to explain why her philosophy of opacity is perfect for the U.S. Congress. Or “Doug Douchey”, the pretty-boy rich kid with the perpetual sneer who wants to give you a political wedgie. (Hey—that’s a sniglet, too!) You get the idea.
Rich Hall loved goosing people into making up their own sniglets. Take this as a formal commendarey—I dare you to sniglify whatever’s on your mind….