I was recently appalled to discover how many of the “new” words just appearing in the Oxford Dictionary are hacked-down versions of old favorites: apols (apologies), grats (congratulations), srsly (seriously), and so on. Is our language being hijacked by Twitter? But no, I was relieved to note that many of this year’s newbies were spelled out in full and are rich with meaning: buzzworthy, Oprah’s trademark aha moment, and digital detox for times when you need a vacation from your technology.
And some old faves have earned new definitions. Earworm (originally a blight attacking corn) now also means, in the words of Stephen King, one of those “songs that burrow into your head and commence chewing your brains.”
Clearly the English language isn’t in great peril if we’re still coining new words and usages like that.
The great thing is, anyone can invent words. A couple of years ago, I was walking through the woods with some friends, and we started talking about how words get born. (Yes, I know, I am such a language geek.) Challenged to think of a new one, I came up with the phrase going spiral to mean something that gets quoted and bandied about among friends. Unlike going viral, which indicates something that rapidly enters widespread public awareness, going spiral means circulating around within a private group, such as the running jokes that last through a reunion weekend.
Whenever I travel with certain friends, I know sooner or later someone will say, “I don’t know where I am but I don’t feel lost,” or “We’re very, very close,” to indicate the driver has absolutely no idea when, or even if, we will reach our destination. Going spiral gains a bit more momentum every time a friend uses the phrase in conversation, correspondence, or a comment on my blog or Facebook page, but I doubt you’ll see it in the Oxford Dictionary any time soon.
I was delighted to discover that I’m not the only one out there coming up with new words. Social media superstar and actor George Takei (you first knew him as Mr. Sulu on Star Trek) invites people to send him new words they’ve coined, and his friends have come up with some doozies.
Shenaniganza: An extravaganza of shenanigans (from Anne-Marie Whisman Pine)
Boobage (alternative to cleavage): “I like this dress, but it shows too much boobage” (from Christine Lathem)
Hangry: hungry + angry (from Wendy Flick)
Brilliant! I, for one, am inserting these words into my daily conversations as we speak.
If you’ve got a new word that deserves a wider audience, now’s your chance to let it go spiral, maybe even viral. Post it here in the comments, and let us know what it means and how you’d use it in a sentence. They say the English language contains the largest, most cramazing and spiffylicious collection of words in the world, and I figure it’s up to all of us to keep it snizzo.
I’ll leave you with another favorite new word from the George Takei collection:
Cellodrama: One side of a drama played out in front of a group of people overhearing someone else’s phone call, (on a bus, train, etc), ie: “… aww, c’mon Rosie, I didn’t … she was kissing ME … no I wasn’t … no don’t be like that, we can work this out babe … Rosie? … No don’t say that baby … Rosie, ROSIE!?!” etc. (from Laen Deakin)
I'm an American travel writer based in Spain and currently living in California.
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