Sunday, 26 April 2009


I am, as you may know, going away, far far away. I may be some time. Well, to be honest, I will only be four days, but it will seem like a long time to me. I have pledged to leave my laptop behind. But he doesn't know I'm sneaking a pen and paper into the suitcase. What I expect to do with that, goodness knows, but it's worth a try.

Anyway, I said I'd give you an activity to keep your brains alert. And I will. But don't scroll down to the end of the post. Read the "learning" first. Remember how you had to eat your greens before you got your dessert? Well, this is not very much like that.

All writers like to play with words. We like the sound of them and the feel of them in our mouths and what they do to the minds and hearts of the reader. Writers can have conversations about the beauty of words in the same way that other people can go gooey-eyed over the gorgeousness of scart leads.

One of my favourite words is one I don't often get the chance to use. It's "hapax legomenon." (OK, two words.) And it describes any word which has only ever "once" (hapax) been "read" (legomenon, obviously). So, it's a word that has only ever appeared once in the whole history of literature. Trouble is, as soon as you then write that down in order to comment on it and discuss its position in the cannon, it's not hapax any more, is it? Don't suppose they thought of that when they started talking about hapax legomena. "Oooh, electricity - there's one! Oops, now it's gone ...."

Anyway, let's not be pedantic. Let's say that a hapax thingy could (should) also mean a word which was at one time "once read" until some aspiring writer spoilt its uniqueness by writing it again and then damned well getting published so someone else could read it for the second time.

If you invented a word, it woud be a hapax legomenon until someone else used it.

Well, I invented one yesterday. It was while I was gardening, or, to be precise, while I was gazing in admiration at the results of my gardening. See, I have a very small garden but I like to do my bit for the environment so I had been planting lettuces and beans and things in pots, so that, come the sun, I'd be in, if not clover, then at least lettuce.

You need to see it before I go on:

Isn't it cute? Sorry about the tulips, which are clearly not edible, but I thought the lettuces needed something to inspire them. To model good behaviour, so to speak.

Then came my inspirational word invention. See, there I was gazing at my tiny collection of pots, leaning on my fork, and thinking to myself, that's not so much an allotment as ....

.... an allittlement (Or should that be with one "l"? We need a ruling on that.)

Now this word is, quite literally, a hapax legomenon. At the moment. And, as I am sure you will agree, it should exist, so I'd like you to help me raise it from its hapaxity (woah! another one!) and take it into common usage. I want to be remembered for something more than just being the first Google result for "crabbit old bat". Please.

But that's not your main task. Oh no.
Your main task (and there's no prize or nasty judging or anything divisive and time-consuming, because I'm going to be up to my eyes in things when I get back from the sunny north) is to share with all of us your own invented words. Words that damned well should exist. And if we like them, we will all go out there and take them into common usage.

Go on - think of your legacy!

All your words in the comments box, please. If you can't think of any new words, entertain us with your favourite existing words - if you speak about them interestingly, we'll get to love them too. Go on, inspire us! And if they're really unusual words that we might not have heard of, you'll have educated us too. Goodness me: "inspire, educate and entertain"? We'll be turning into the BBC soon ...

Meanwhile, here is my own personal Cerberus.


Jane Smith said...

Nicola, I am very impressed with your alittlement. We keep on thinking about sticking in some fruit trees but once we've remembered it's too late each year to organise enough sheep-wire, and so we forget.

Onto hapaxitude: it's not quite the same thing, but when my first son was born, mothers used to witter on about having "quality time" with their children and, as a stay-at-home mum I found this whole concept bizarre, as I experienced "quantity time" with my children. Which endures to this day and while I adore them and all that, it's a whole other ball game.

Enjoy your break into the not-so-sunny north: it's been lovely here today, but the coming week is forecast to be chillier and rainy. Try to sort that out while you're here, please!

Nicola Morgan said...

Jane - Oh yes, I do so agree about quantity time. Sod quality - that was all about over-focusing and did the kids want us to over-focus? Course they didn't, because then we got all anal and tense about the quality of their artwork or baking or junk sculpture. I too was much better at the quantity.

Donna Hosie said...

When I was a child, our house was repeatedly infested with little bugs called "willypigs". They were cute little crustaceans and we used to flick them around the tiles where they obliged us by rolling up into little balls. I was in my 20s when I discovered they were actually called "woodlice"!

I have no idea where the word "willypig" came from, but it's so much nicer than "louse", and it's one I continue to use today for any bug I don't know the name of.

My legacy is "willypig". (And I sincerely hope I don't write anything as tragic as that today!)

Enjoy your time away, Nicola.

Nicola Morgan said...

Donna - clean your house, I say. It's a great semantic legacy but it doesn't say much for your parents' sense of "house for humans, dung heap for beetles" propriety. Did you survive relatively civilised? I agree, willypig is a very lovely word ...

Barb said...

I grew up in country Australia, so the trip to the nearest high school involved a serious bus trip. We would always ask the long suffering bus driver what the road kill animals were. He, trying the look quickly and still drive the bus, would attempt to cover all possibilities by calling them "kanga-walla-foxes".

As for favourite words. One I have always loved is "ropable", which is an informal term for angry, wild or intractable. It sounds like you need to be tied up until you calm down.

Have a good break!

litlove said...

When I lived in France, I found the word for something utterly disgusting was 'degueulasse' and no word exists in English with quite such abject power. So the English girls I was living with adopted it, anglicised to degoolas, and it's really very useful. I guess there are three people running around out there in the world using it, though, so maybe it's not quite hepaxawotsit enough!

Helen P said...

Words for 'remote control' when remote control was a fairly new concept.
"Can the pass the doofer, please," I said to my colleague.
"The what?" he replied.
"The doofer," I said impatiently and then went on to explain. "The remote control of course."
"Don't you mean the squid?" he replied superciliously.
"The what?"
"The squid; it's short for 'squiddely diddeley," he said, keeping a perfectly straight face.
I still laugh now when I pick up our family 'squid' (or 'doofer' depending on my mood).

morphine-moniza said...

Your allittlement is very cute and little. Ooh I have a fun word that my friends and I use often (so it’s not all that hapax legomenon). It’s a word that already exists but we have misused it until it lost all traces of its original meaning. And the word is:
A friend of mine once said (during a harrowing exam week): Procrastination is like masturbation, in the end you’re just screwing yourself.
The wisdom of his words struck us. It really did. And ever since, we have used the respective words interchangeably. So my friends often leave me messages on my blog and facebook account telling me to “stop masturbating”.
It can be very misleading.
We also draw some very strange looks when talking about our work avoidance in public, often involving the use of sentences like “I masturbated all night on Youtube”.

vicariousrising said...

My son came up with this one several years ago when he was a youngun:

decrapitatedIt's what happens to us when we get old and start losing our minds and falling apart. We think he was trying to say decrepit, but it came out a combo of that plus "crap" and "decapitated." Seems an apt description of me many days.

Cecilia said...

In our family when we went camping, something which I don't miss doing at all now that we're older and have more sense, we slept in 'bee-gags' which I believe arose out of one of my son's efforts to say 'sleeping-bags' at quite an early age. Although I think it's about 25 years since we started using it, I can't remember it ever having been written down before (it looks sillier in print).

Nancy Coffelt said...

I just wrote on a subject a little like this today on my site. When my tennis doubles partner missed a shot this morning she apologized by misspeaking, saying she felt

When she tried to correct herself, I told her she was a genius and I was oh, so stealing that word.

Great garden! The slugs always eat mine.

BuffySquirrel said...

Helen, the remote control in my parents' house was always the doofer-whatsit. Obviously a related word :D.

One of my favourite neologisms is confusled, which is a conflation of confused and misled, for when you think someone's deliberately trying to make you confused. Similar to (but preceding) Miss Snark's confuddled, a conflation of confused and muddled.

Another word I've actively tried to promote is internetially. I've seen other people use it, but I'm never sure if they've copied me (I wish!) or developed the word independently.

But my favourite was actually coined by someone else, and it's vaguaries. For when you're wandering around the subject and you have no idea why.

behlerblog said...

I have nothing of substance to add except this: you're not taking your computer??

This means only one thing; you brought in the docs to surgically excise your fingers from the keyboard. I'm sure this required copious amounts of alcohol.

Which explains the beagle's absence. She wandered in, dirty, carrying an umbrella and wearing a bowler hat. She smelled of fish and chips, and beer. And she barked with an accent.

She was mixing margaritas and chocolate martinis for you to deaden the pain, wasn't she?

She is so grounded.

Ebony McKenna. said...

The word I think I invented today has to do with having a guest 'appearance' on a radio show. It's called a guest 'assoundance'

Nicola Morgan said...

Dear All
Thanks for all your great words. I do agree about needing a word for the remote control - my husband has a word for it: "Mine"

Lynn - ah, I did take a computer but it's such a tiny one that it's useless for typing and the phone signal where I was was so crummy and slow that i'd have died of boredom before any reply/comment I might make could get through. Hence, I resorted to paper, and very interesting it was too. So, your beagle was not with me - I'd ask her some questions if i were you.

Catherine Randle said...

I don't have haxpitudes but reading the comments and thinking about the blog I think a lot of my favourite words are ones that came about when having fun with loved ones.

My son used to call Lemonaide Lemontinade. I was a lovely summer afternoon in Brixton and we were picnicing in Brockwell Park. He's since died but the fun of that day and word stay with me.

Then there was the writers meeting when we were talking about blogs and my friend said Inner logs, I mean blogs. Truer words couldn't have been spoken.

Old English has a couple of words we don't use I love...hedgepigs for hedge hogs. I think they are up there with willy pigs and I will give life to that word from now on.

My other is the word gentellessuer. Its a word that is meant to embody all that is good about knights and courtly love. I love it because it old and feel good in your mouth and it is about the gentle caring part of love. Noble and just if you like.

I am going to work hard to see alittlement put into GOD as in the Great Oxford Dictionary because I like it. I am starting an alittlement this month. I shall be thinking of you as I play in the mud.