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Words Are Funny

January 21, 2012

So my editorial ranting is on hold while I share some lexicographical fun. In another life I spent time researching, writing, and editing dictionaries, and sometimes my editor self flips a switch to my lexicographer self to marvel at the linguistical fun of new words and new usages for old words. Here are a few that crossed my path recently.

Spite fence.Spite fence

This past week, when Wikipedia and many other sites went dark in protest of SOPA and PIPA, a Facebook friend posted a list of Wikipedia entries we wouldn’t be able to read that day. On it I found a term that is my new favorite, spite fence. It’s because I’m building a spite fence. According to Wikipedia, it’s a fence built out of spite for the neighbor, because of a spat or argument with said neighbor. Those of you who know me know how much I hate our neighbor. So I’ve planted black walnuts and redbuds, forsythia and tiger lilies, sunflowers, snowball bushes, pricker bushes–anything I can think of that will grow quickly and thickly and tall. One friend suggested we put up a chain link fence and insert empty glass bottles through it; it’s very classy, no? Did I mention how much I hate my neighbor?


I used to work with the best web team in the world. We had designers, programmers, writers, marketers, info architects, usability guys—the whole works. One of our programmers was especially great at finding ways to make whatever we wanted—and oftentimes what we hadn’t even asked for!—happen. He’s a genius at programming but many of us communication types on the team hadn’t a clue what his explanations meant (mySql, java, scripts: wha?), so I suggested he dumb it down for us when explaining his work. At meetings, when he was presenting a new feature, say, for our CMS, he’d say, “Do this and this,” and I’d ask, “So, John, how does it know to do that?” And he’d say, “It’s automagic.” I always thought John made up that word. Imagine my surprise when I found Time’s list of new words in the ODE. (Not to be confused with the venerable OED.) They say it means “automatically and in a way that seems ingenious, inexplicable, or magical,” which totally describes John’s work on our team.

Joanne, Marco, Tasha, EzioPhotobombing.

Among the many, many fabulous qualities I see in my sister Tasha is her silliness factor, which oftentimes appears as photobombing. She loves to be in photos, so even if you’re taking one without her, she’ll appear in it anyway. She also makes crazy, goofy faces right when the picture is snapped, which is a different kind of photobombing. Just check out the photo to the right, where she decided to lick Marco’s face at the last minute. Cambridge Dictionary’s blog defines photobombing as “spoiling a photograph by jumping into the picture just as it is being taken.” I think Tasha’s work will redefine photobombing, since her photobombing never spoils the picture; it makes it fun!


Another Facebook friend of mine recently mentioned that her son had been reprimanded at school that day because he’d “pantsed” another kid. I was intrigued by the term and looked it up. It’s exactly what you might think it is: surreptitiously and quickly pulling down another person’s pants to expose their underwear (or maybe more, if you grab the underwear, too). It’s like the new century’s version of the wedgie. And the opportunities for successful pantsing have got to be way higher than those for wedgies were in my day. I mean, in the 1970s we wore tight pants, yet today boys’ pants are just about falling off their butts anyway.

Broccoli journalism.

I confess: I did a little research for this post in an attempt to find another fun new word. This one comes from a site called Double Tongue, my vote for best name for a website about language. While browsing through it, I found broccoli journalism, which seems to mean journalism in which the author tells you what you should do, which isn’t anything fun or interesting but, rather, is good for you, evoking the child being force-fed her broccoli because it’s good for her. Who would you pick for today’s best practitioner of broccoli journalism?

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