It is a standing joke among my friends that not one of us got the joke of the restaurant “Nacho Mama’s” before we were in our twenties. I also count significant delays in picking up on the following: a local restaurant called “The Barge Inn” that I had pegged as nautical; the double entendre of TV’s Queer as Folk; numerous NPR shows (though why did they never use As it Happens?); the movie Just Cause; and hair salons beyond number. (Tress for Success! I got that one right away.)
It’s no coincidence, of course, that puns, rhymes, and double (or triple) meanings abound in places that want to be welcoming. It’s hard to find a title in a magazine that’s not wordplay. That’s because a title or name serves as an introduction—literally, a welcoming sign—suggesting that the people who propose to provide your reading matter; serve you their strange food; cut your hair; and tell you dire news on war, GMO’s, and indie bands are not only funny, but that they can make fun of themselves. (DARPA, on the other hand, is not called “The Gunderminer.”)
When I started churning out entries for The New York Times Magazine column “That Should Be a Word,” readers sought not only wordplay but words about obscure feelings that nonetheless loomed large: a chocolate-chip cookie that turns out to be raisin (bitrayal); the slew of child-related media (bornography); the family member who always has to fix the computer (domestech). A story began to emerge: There was food (Ingestigation), marriage (Martyrmony), identity (Mespoke), emotion (Dramaneering), tech (Fidgital), work and money (Bangst), each deserving of its own chapter—subjects that already fattened dictionaries but nonetheless needed more words to fully describe them.
And it’s this multiplicity—one word that melds other words into something greater than its parts—that makes a good neologism both a necessity and a joy. Neologisms are words we scrape up from existing words to reflect our own manylayered behavior, how our behavior and lives have intertwined in unexpected ways.
In this book you’ll see how these words themselves tell a story of our culture. (Some words like “sentiyentl,” the feeling of hearing an old Barbra Streisand song, were a bit too specific.) I’ve no doubt we could find even more cultural trends for expansion: gaming; horticulture; sports; organized crime; and other areas I know nothing about. There’s an entire book for the names IKEA products actually should be called, I’m sure. But words, after all, are a conversation. I leave that to you.
Here are four new words from That Should Be A Word that will help you describe situations related to money and finances:
Stress over diminishing funds.
“Topher read the ATM printout carefully, filled with bangst. That couldn’t be only two zeroes, could it?”
“It was ridiculous that the head of the lab, who brought in a million dollars in grants every year, was such a spendicant, but Jules and Fran had become used to getting stiffed on bringing him lunch.”
(Poorly) estimated expenses.
“Yun hoped his partner wouldn’t notice a few missing items and hedged amounts on what had become one of his clumsier Halloween-costume fudgets.”
A fuzzy amount of money one owes.
“Armand noted that his bank account registered several checks, late fees, withdrawals, and various other debtcetera that he’d ignore again later.”
For more much-needed terms for the modern world, check out That Should Be A Word.
Lizzie Skurnick is an author, a columnist, and the editor in chief of Lizzie Skurnick Books, an imprint that brings back YA classics for teen-lit fans. She has also written ten books for teens. A contributor to NPR, The New York Times Book Review, and many other publications, she is the author of Shelf Discovery, a memoir of teen reading inspired by her “Fine Lines” column on Jezebel.com. She lives in Jersey City, New Jersey.