Monday, August 31, 2009

New Words

I am fascinated by new words. The English language has always been known for its ability to adopt words from other languages, or to originate new words on its own, but the speed with which such words proliferate has increased dramatically with the advent of modern communications: television, iPhones, twitter, etc.

Of the new words added each year, a few of them stand out because each describes some common situation that has not preciously had a unique description. Some examples follow, along with the year they were added to the dictionary:

1.) Stacation (2009) A vacation spent at home or nearby. This has become a rather common event since the advent of the recession of 2008.

2.) Air quotes (2008) A gesture made by raising and flexing the index and middle fingers of both hands that is used to call attention to a spoken word or expression. Previous to this action, if one wanted to indicate a quotation in conversation, it was necessary to actually say “quote unquote".

3.) Mondegreen (2008) This is my favorite. A mondegreen is the mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase, typically a standardized phrase such as a line in a poem or a lyric in a song, in a way that yields a new meaning to the phrase.

First, some background. When the writer Sylvia Wright was a child, her mother used to read aloud to her from Percy's Reliques, and the child heard one of her favorite poems as follows:


Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,

Oh, where hae ye been?

They hae slain the Earl Amurray,

And Lady Mondegreen.


The actual fourth line is “And laid him on the green.” So when Wright learned the actual fourth line, she coined the new word to describe this situation. Here are a few examples:

Surely Good Mrs. Murphy shall follow me all the days of my life ("Surely goodness and mercy…" from Psalm 23).

"Gladly, the cross-eyed bear” from the hymn ("Gladly The Cross I'd Bear").

“I’ll be seizing you in all the old familiar places” from the 1938 popular song (“I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places”).

In Tabitha Soren's "Choose or Lose" 1992 interview with Bill Clinton, she asked "Who's your favorite musician?" After Clinton replied, "Thelonious Monk," Soren later asked, "Who's the loneliest monk?"

You get the idea.

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