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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Words that English is missing

Did you ever invent your own word?

I did.

English is a very adaptable language. It has in previous times incorporated large chunks of classical Greek, Latin, French, Germanic Saxon, Celtic and other languages into its lexicon.

This adaptibility may well be why, alongside British and American imperialism, that English is well on its way to becoming the first genuinely global language.

But there are still concepts in existence that English is lacking words for.

One great example is the joy of witnessing someone else's pain. Only the Germans could have identified the need for such a word, and they did. They call it 'schadenfreude'. And English has gleefully borrowed it.

But there are still many concepts missing a word to define them. So when we were young, we used to create our own.

These weren't dialect terms, or even, God forbid, Ulster-Scots. These were words that me and my mates made up when we were young to explain concepts that just don't have an official word in English.

One was SKRINGELY. Anything that makes you feel so uncomfortable that you have to move around slightly is skringely. Like when your parents sit you down to tell you the facts of life, or when a really ugly chick asks you out. Looking at gross pictures of stuff in science class could be skringely for the more squeamish. Listening to the blow-by-blow account of your gay mate's love life is also generally pretty skringely too.

A cognate term to skringely is SCRINKLE. You scrinkle about in bed on hot, sweaty, muggy nights. You scrinkle when an insect lands on your back and you jerk about trying to get rid of it. Scrinkling is any jerky movement aimed at providing comfort.

One great word we used that I reckon the English language needs to adopt is the verb TO BABOON. This describes an action regularly seen among the knackers, chavs, spides and scumbags of the world.

If you've ever seen baboons in the wild or in zoos, having a drink or some food, they're constantly spinning their heads back and forth over their shoulders suspiciously, for fear that they might get attacked from behind by another baboon.

It's exactly the same with scumbags. If you ever watch a bunch of street corner kids, hanging around of an evening, they constantly baboon. Heads jerk back and forth, scanning the territory for anyone they don't want to encounter, like parents, police or parole officers.

But possibly the best word we ever coined was actually a resurrection of an older English hunting term. Our modern word 'scum' comes directly from an antiquated word for fox excrement, which was called scomb.

From this came the hunting term scomber or scumber, which mean to NOT step in fox excrement. The reason you don't want to do this when hunting is because the dogs follow the smell of the fox poo, and they start thinking that you're the fox.

But it dawned on us that a word for narrowly avoiding ending up in the shit is something with many more uses outside of the narrow world of fox hunting. So we adopted the verb TO SCUMBER as having that wider meaning.

You could be shagging some young one in her parents' house when the front door goes. If you quickly manage to get your kit on and get out the window before angry daddy storms the bedroom, then you've successfully scumbered out of a potentially dangerous situation.

You've scumbered again when you screw up at work but someone else cops the blame, or you manage to get things sorted before the boss finds out. There are a myriad of potential uses of the verb to scumber, limited only by the amount of shit that human beings nearly find themselves in, but end up avoiding by a hair's breadth.

Those were some of our words, and I still find myself using them, much to the bemusement of those who listen to me.

And I haven't stopped making up words for things that lack their own terms in English. Most recently, I coined Asbopop.

Did any of you interweb people ever invent some words of your own which fill a hole in the English language?

Let's hear them!


mellobiafra said...

Arfff! I'd forgotten about Babooning! One word I would like to see going into a modern English lexicon is something like Missing Neighbour's "Flathead" - some term for members of that aggravating subculture who believe that social networking sites and "hilarious" YouTube snippets are the pinnacle of modern culture! I like flathead because of it's possible patronising, head-patting, "Yeah, yeah, Yeah, whatever you say you socially inept dimwit!" connotation. And what about a word for those neophile captains of industry and commerce who are so hellbent on courting the flathead market that they antagonise their traditional market and tank their businesses! Any suggestions?

Fericho said...

Well "lamp", while not quite what you're getting at is the all round effective midlands verb which can replace most others. Also "brown grazing" is another term I've heard recently which whilst more a phrase than word refers to people who brown-nose whilst not actually doing any work and end up doing quite well out of it.

Brian Barker said...

I think you overestimate the "power" of English globally.

Not even the England soccer manager speaks English!

Then there is Mandarin Chinese and Esperanto. Nine British MP's have nominated Esperanto for the Nobel Peace Prize 2008 for example.

You can check this on http://www.lernu.net

JC Skinner said...

Esperanto - 100,000 speakers worldwide. More people speak Irish, ffs. I rest my case.
Meanwhile, back in the real world of real languages ...

pcollins said...

'Reexaminaliasationalism' is one that pops to mind. Stuffed with Graeco-Roman cognates mind but does still have a kind of feverish insistence. Intrestin query mind.
Was it the Wit that said; ''The limits of my language .... '' Yup, the Ghoedallic hearth shlips shlops the shapin tooms .. arrabegor!!

JC Skinner said...

That's a splendid word, Mr Collins! Can we get a definition?

JC Skinner said...

@ Mello: I've been too busy scumbering around the big pile of poo I've accidentally created with my abortion compromise, that I haven't had a moment to consider what to name your evil captains of industry.
But it does occur to me that 'turdswallowing nincompoops' might do the trick?

Anonymous said...

I particularly liked the campaign to get bouncebackability included only to that it was already there.

I would go with embiggins and cromulent.