Friday, August 13, 2010

Sarah and the morphologisms

Sarah Palin may have gone viral with her apparent malapropism on Twitter -- "refudiate" -- but she's also created what I (ahem) have dubbed a "morphologism".

That's based on a contest run by the Washington Post a few years ago, in which readers were invited to create new words from existing words using just one letter. You could add, delete or change a letter to make this new word. My favorites were:

  • karmageddon -- that's like, a really bad scene? where all the bad stuff that everyone's ever done comes back on them? and people get killed? and everything's destroyed? and it's, like, a real bummer? and
  • reintarnation -- the belief that when you die, you come back in the next life as a hillbilly

Another example is one the British humourist Denis Norden coined: tauntering. He described that as a "labour-saving word to describe one man tottering (carrying a load of stuff) while another was sauntering (and carrying nothing)". Of course, the fact that he had to expend so much labour on explaining what the word meant rather defeated the labour-saving intent, but there you go ...

Anyway, the Post didn't really have a name for this type of new word, so I came up with one: morphologism -- from a couple of Greek words meaning changing a word.

Alas, I don't think the Post ever re-ran the contest, which is personally disappointing because not only had I coined a term for these words, I'd started thinking of some of my own, to wit:

  • pestulence -- the state in which your home is overrun by teenage girls
  • decafitation -- in which, until you've had that first cup of coffee, you just can't get your head into things

And now comes the ex-gov., with refudiate. It may come across initially as a malapropism -- named after Mrs Malaprop, in Richard Sheridan's 1775 restoration comedy, The Rivals, who mangled the language with such remarks as "promise to forget this fellow - to illiterate him, I say, from your memory" and "Sure, if I reprehend any thing in this world it is the use of my oracular tongue, and a nice derangement of epitaphs!". (Other examples include the weasel character in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, who said that all his information had been "duly corrugated" and the sportscaster who commented on a contract dispute with a player that was settled when the club president stepped in: "xxxxx has a way of getting involved and exacerbating the situation".)

But refudiate actually makes some sense, AND it's a one-letter change in an existing word. The definition is a bit of a challenge, but that's not what's important right now. I'd like to have some fun with this and see what others come up with. Submit your suggestions as comments, and please make sure I know how to reach you. Might even find a prize to send to the best one -- although that's a little like tying a pork chop around my neck so my dog will play with me.

And I don't even have a dog.

No comments:

Post a Comment