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Jack Smith

Snickersnigs: One who laughs at effort by some to describe something for which there previously was no word

May 21, 1985|JACK SMITH

The more literate we are, evidently, the more acutely aware we are of those situations or objects for which there is no word.

As I noted the other day, any word coined to fill such a vacuum is called a sniglet.

Sniglet is defined as "any word that doesn't appear in the dictionary, but should," and "Sniglets" is a book compiled by Rich Hall of the HBO show "Not Necessarily the News."

As I foresaw, not all the sniglets I quoted from Hall's book proved acceptable to my readers.

"You refer to the sniglet bumperglint ," writes Frank Alins of Camarillo, "as a small reflective obstacle in the middle of interstate highways which supposedly keeps drivers awake and on the track.

" Everyone knows they are grunches . My wife and I have called them that for as long as I can remember, and we'll be married 52 years this coming July."

There is no doubt that many of the wordless situations or objects for which Hall and his friends have invented sniglets have already been given words by other people; but somehow they have not made it into the language.

Bumperglints or grunches. Take your pick.

Polly Fleming isn't quite satisfied with hystioblogination , a sniglet meaning "the act of trying to identify a gift by holding it to the ear and shaking it."

" Hystioblogination rolls nicely off the tongue," she concedes, "but presents no image. So I prefer aureomagination for the same act."

Miss Fleming writes in longhand, "suffering as I am," she explains, "from typevoid (no typewriter today)."

She also questions Hall's coinage of idiot box as the sniglet for "the part of the envelope that tells a person where to place the stamp. . . ."

"But everyone knows," she points out, "that this is the TV set! So how about envelomorinox ?"

She is also not satisfied with stroodle --"the annoying strand of cheese stretching from a slice of hot pizza to one's mouth."

"It doesn't conjure up cheese strands to me ," she says. "Do you like cheesle ? Incidentally, this strand leading to the hot pizza thrills and excites me. How could you say it annoys?"

Like almost everyone else, Miss Fleming was dissatisfied with my own invention of optinut --"a person who has five pairs of reading glasses and manages to misplace them all at the same time."

That one was close to my heart because it describes me.

She comments: "It might well mean someone with glasses to match every ensemble. (I know a few.) I suggest optihopeless ."

True Boardman of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences suggests specsamnesia . (The victim of the condition, of course, would be a specsamnesiac .)

"Or perhaps, " she adds, "since five pairs are missing, amnesiasquintus ."

Hank Maxwell of Claremont writes: "Perhaps one who misplaces five pairs of reading glasses at the same time could be described as a pentaspectagoner ."

"Perhaps optinut is a little harsh," writes John Edwin Smith of Santa Ana. "Spectaculess is a mite more gentle. . . ."

"At first," writes Lani Schneider of Glendale, "it occurred to me that a person who owns at least five pairs of reading glasses, but manages to misplace them all at once, must be a visionNary. . . . But after 12 years of marriage, I realize that any person who owns five sets of anything and can't find any is a husband ."

Besides suggesting pentaspectagoner , Hank Maxwell suggests another sniglet for what he calls "a more universal annoyance." The word is tintinnirritation , meaning "the frustration experienced when leaving a comfortable bathtub or descending a high ladder to answer a telephone which suddenly stops ringing."

F. Stuart Ryerson of Claremont conjures up some other conditions that he considers common enough to be deserving of sniglets:

"The hair that collects in the filter in a bathtub. Hairguk ? . . . The stuff that collects in your belly button. . . . The experience of becoming wide awake in the middle of the night for no good reason. . . . Losing your car keys that you just placed somewhere. . . . A wrong number on the phone."

Technology creates all kinds of situations that become commonplace before the language can catch up, as vigorous as it is. We used to dial telephone numbers. Now that many of us have converted to push-button phones, how do we get our numbers?

Do we still dial them? We might still use that word, but we are not really dialing. Do we push them? Have you ever heard anyone say, "Sorry, I must have pushed the wrong number."

What then? Do we punch the numbers? I believe I have read in detective stories that some character "punched out" a number, but there is a quality of aggressiveness in it that isn't intended.

Do we press a number? In fact, that's closer to what we do than dial, push or punch. But I don't remember ever hearing anyone say that he had pressed someone's number.

What can you call the computer-addressed mail that your dog receives, inviting him to take out life insurance? Junk mail isn't specific enough.

What difference does it make?

Edgar A. Shoaf, the sage of La Canada, sends me a quotation from Bergen Evans, the grammarian and wordsmith:

"Words are one of our chief means of adjusting to all the situations of life. The better control we have over words the more successful our adjustment is likely to be."

I don't know. I doubt that finding a good sniglet for it will cure me of misplacing all my glasses at once.

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