Neologisms, Numbers, and Niceness

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October 14, 2017 by libroshombre


Me and Aristophanes, the Greek playwright, agree that, “By words the mind is excited and the spirit elated.” That is, if the right words crop up. Some of us, being more lexicographically open-minded, enjoy encountering terms like, “bucket-truck,” appreciating its linguistic possibilities – “Oh! bucket-truck!” makes an excellent safe-for-work euphemism – and how it satisfyingly rattles out of the mouth.

Some of us gleefully anticipate the Washington Post’s Annual Neologism Contest, “where contestants are asked to make up new meanings for common words.” This year’s winners include “coffee: the person upon whom one coughs,” “lymph: to walk with a lisp,” and “gargoyle: gross, olive-flavored mouthwash.” Also mentioned was “frisbeetarianism,” a religious offshoot endorsed by the late comedian George Carlin that hinges upon “the belief that when you die, your soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.”

Some people don’t share our appreciation. For example, an online article by Jeff Farrell from two weeks ago is headlined“German Neo-Nazi Mayoral Candidate Laughed at When He Called to Ban Arabic House Numbers.” Apparently Otfried Best, “running on an anti-immigration ticket for the ultra-right NPD party” in a small German town, was aware of the universal use of Arabic numerals throughout Western civilization. Farrell quoted an professor in Arabic at the University of Westminster: “A German man actually translated Arabic numerals into the Western style, so it is incredible how ignorance can lead to this kind of political blindness.”

            Is it so incredible these days? Consider another new word in my vocabulary: “whataboutery: the practice of responding to an accusation by making a counter-accusation, real of imaginary, relevant or irrelevant.” According to A.Word.A.Day., “The word was coined in 1974 in a story about the Northern Ireland conflict. It was widely employed by the USSR as a propaganda technique and is now often a favorite of Trump.” An example was cited from last month’s violence in Charlottesville, when the President said, “What about the ‘alt-left’ that came charging at the, as you say, ‘alt-right’?”

Liam Stack wrote an informative article for titled, “Alt-Right, Alt-Left, Antifa: A Glossary of Extremist Language.” “The ‘alt-right’ is a racist, far-right movement based on an ideology of white nationalism and anti-Semitism … Researchers who study extremist groups in the united States say there is no such thing as the ‘alt-left’.” The “alt-light are members of the far-right who don’t agree with the alt-right’s focus on racism and anti-Semitism. “ and “‘antifa’ is a contraction of the word ‘anti-fascist.’ It was coined in Germany in the 1960s and 1970s by a network of groups that spread across Europe to confront right-wing extremists.”

All such extremist sentiments are bemusing to me, assuming you know what that means. It’s one of “14 Words That Don’t Mean What You Think They Do,” an online article in which Minda Setlin interviewed word expert and A.Word.A.Day author Anu Garg. “Bemuse” is often used to mean “amused,” but actually means “to bewilder or confuse.” “Matriculate, means to enroll,” Garth explained, not to graduate, “refute” means “to prove something false,” not “to deny.” And “impeach” is “really a synonym for the word ‘indict’” or “to bring an accusation against someone.” And “Irony does not mean coincidental … it’s a contradiction between an expression and an action. For example, in a class about safe firearm handling the instructor accidentally shoots himself.”

A more comforting word-related consideration is described in “The Secret Language of Patients and Caregivers, a recent article by Susan Gubar. “It’s not unusual for people dealing with illness to use quirky dialects and inside jokes to attempt to maintain a sense of connection with their intimates or to revive unextinguished emotions … For many patients and those who love them, recycled lyrics, punch lines, and jingles elicit the associations of a shared past. They function as shortcuts that can affirm and enliven a relationship imperiled by disease, especially if it threatens the mind.”

Bibliotherapy, “the use of reading materials for help in solving personal problems or for psychiatric therapy,” is taught in library schools, and means of strengthening, invigorating, and inspiring your mind await atyour library. That’s why, since the Alexandrian Library’s day, they’ve been known as “the Hospital for the Mind.”




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