February 27, 2010


Webinar (BRYAN A. GARNER, 2/27/10, NY Times)

Webinar (Web + seminar) seems like a fine neologism for a seminar offered online. A blend of two common terms, it’s immediately understood by most people. I’ve been taking Webinars lately; I like them and appreciate having a handy word for them — even though I’m often inclined to object to linguistic “innovations.”

Lewis Carroll famously called blends like Webinar “portmanteau” words because they’re two words packed into one. (A portmanteau was essentially a suitcase with two compartments folded together.) Carroll made up several such words for his poem “Jabberwocky” (1871), including chortle (chuckle + snort) and galumph (gallop + triumph). Chortle has stayed with us, while galumph appears to have gone the way of gyre and gimble. Why? Because chortle is so handy and so onomatopoeically evocative (think of the laugh of a portly chum).

We enjoy making up portmanteau words. Some stick. Many don’t. [...]

How, in short, do you judge the relative utility and quality of neologisms?

The answer is that the entire language community becomes the judge. Once a word acquires general currency, only a hopelessly out-of-touch pedant would take up quixotic arms against it. Through the force of linguistic natural selection, some words win their way. Others don’t.

Predicting what will happen is dodgy business. Whether it’s a blend or any other type of neologism, it helps if the word denotes something new. No one seems to have objected to astronaut, breathalyzer or Chunnel when they were first needed. Contrast that with a word that Simon Winchester recently proposed on Twitter (yes, he tweeted about it — see, there’s another handy word). He thinks that drimmens is the perfect word for droplets left by snowy boots on a warm kitchen floor. Although Winchester is one of my favorite writers, that’s balderdash. Who needs such a word? O.K., prove me wrong, if you like, and just try to help that one catch on.

...Don Criqui used to ask one of our fraternity brothers to supply him with the latest terms from campus, which he'd the repeat on air. Which is where "Not!" and many others came from. And the land-speed record from coinage to usage had be "nutbag" which Mark Shields used on CNN within weeks.

Unicorn Rider hasn't caught on, but someone in the national media is going to refer to the midterm elections as the O-pocalypse™ (Opocalypse™) or your money back.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 27, 2010 10:20 AM
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