BRENDA LOOPER: Talk nerdy to me

Logophile's paradise

Word nerds don't need much to be happy. A good dictionary. A thesaurus. A book or 15 about words, like, perhaps, I Never Knew There Was A Word For It by Adam Jacot de Boinod. Blogs on words. Email newsletters.

We really just want to be alone with our words and maybe some chocolate.

Last week was a good one for word nerds who subscribe to the A.Word.A.Day newsletter. For 25 years (as of March 14), Anu Garg has operated the Wordsmith "wordserver"--a term coined by Garg (yes, that's really his name) for a server that runs word-related services. While you can find the archives of the newsletter on the Wordsmith.org website, it's still primarily an email-based service that five days a week delivers interesting words to your inbox.

In celebration of the 25th anniversary, Garg sent out some of his favorite words that he's featured, three of which were already favorites of mine (mondegreen, spoonerism and petrichor), and two others that I will add to my vocabulary (resistentialism and omphaloskepsis).

Mondegreen, a mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase that gives it new meaning, has been a favorite since at least college. Sylvia Wright coined the word in Harper's Magazine in 1954, from a line in "The Bonnie Earl O' Moray," "... and laid him on the green," which was misheard as "Lady Mondegreen." Some of my favorite mondegreens include "there's a bathroom on the right" ("there's a bad moon on the rise"), "It's too late to order fries" ("It's too late to apologize"), and "I'll never leave your pizza burnin'" ("I'll never be your beast of burden").

And I just realized that these favorites could be because of my IBS. Weird.

Some of the responses Garg shared with readers in his weekly roundup started me giggling all over again, and now there's at least one song I'll never hear in the same way: The line "Looking for love in all the wrong places" became "looking for love in all the crawl spaces." There's a very serial-killer vibe going on with that, and that's creepy.

With Siri and voice-to-text, we don't even need to mishear things because the machines are doing it for us: I dictated "a president who rules by his gut," and Siri gave me "a president who rolls by his cat." That president better keep his ankles covered; cats love swiping at things rolling by them. I have the scars to prove it.

I learned in grade school about spoonerisms, which are transpositions of initial sounds in words, named after William Archibald Spooner, a clergyman and educator who had a bad tendency to do this. To wit: "Is the bean dizzy?" instead of "Is the dean busy?"

Saying "a lack of pies" rather than "a pack of lies" will get you confused looks and perhaps an offer of some nice lemon meringue. And you definitely don't want to mix up "trail snacks" and "snail tracks."

OK, again, I seem to be obsessing about food. Must be snack time.

Petrichor, that lovely earthy scent that accompanies the first rain after a long spell of dry weather, isn't a much-used word, really. However, fellow Whovians (Doctor Who fans) will recognize it as a password for the TARDIS and a perfume advertised by the Amy Pond character during the 11th Doctor's run. (I really have to go back and watch these again!)

Resistentialism is a concept I'm familiar with but didn't have a word for; now I do. Humorist Paul Jennings coined the word to describe the theory that inanimate objects are hostile toward us. I give you Siri and the many weird mishearings of my dictation ... though that's less destructive and annoying than the chairs that leap out to stub your toe, the printer that decides to jam just when you need a printout for a very important meeting for which you're already late, the cars that refuse to make "that" sound when you take them to mechanics then start again as soon as you leave ... the list goes on.

They're mocking us, people. It's only a matter of time before they revolt.

The final word of the week, omphaloskepsis, is one I can't believe I didn't know already, and you might not have known it either. However, I and many of our letter-writers are familiar with the concept, as readers often write in about this or that columnist's navel-gazing. How did this word not come into my life till now? And where did all this lint come from?

I know. I just got even nerdier.

In the past 25 years, Wordsmith has featured more than 5,600 words and sent 3.6 billion emails to subscribers in 171 countries, ably fulfilling its mission "to spread the magic of words." To thank its followers, it is holding writing contests at wordsmith.org/25years for limericks, anagrams, pangrams (a sentence using every letter of a given alphabet at least once) or to coin words, all based on something in the past 25 years. More details on the contests and their prizes are available at the website, and the deadline is March 31.

You can also subscribe to the newsletter (which I highly recommend) at wordsmith.org/awad/sub.html.

C'mon, be nerdy. Nerds are cool.


Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Read her blog at blooper0223.wordpress.com. Email her at [email protected].

Editorial on 03/13/2019

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