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If There Are No Words to Describe It, Well, You Can Just Make Them Up

August 20, 2002|MARJA MILLS | CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Spread by e-mail, Web sites and plain old-fashioned word-of-mouth, new words bounce around English faster than dictionary editors--or anyone else--can track.

Often, people come up with new terms to fill what dictionary editor Erin McKean calls English's "semantic gaps," where a word could exist but does not.

Many of the terms arise as pure whimsy. Others are sure signs of the times, such as "e-dress," an e-mail address.

Most made-up words never gain wide circulation, but every now and then one emerges with staying power.

"You never know," says McKean, a senior editor with Oxford University Press-USA. After a recent article about McKean, readers sent in words they have made up or noticed being used.

Linguistic legs or not, here is a sampling:

Cellicide (cell-a-cide) n . Killing of pedestrians, cyclists, motorists and passengers in accidents caused by drivers distracted by use of their cell phones. Cellicidal--adj.--Duane Carlson, Chicago.

Chillaxing (chill-axing) n. Chilling out and relaxing. Spotted online and heard in conversation with area teens.--Kathleen Eng, Skokie, Ill.

Frustankerous (frus-tank-er-us) adj. My wife (Olena) and I have invented a word to describe the behavior of our 11-month-old boy who, when he doesn't get what he wants, acts both frustrated and cantankerous. This behavior includes yelling, pounding fists, working up his face to cry, but also looking angry.--Robert S. Marshall, Evanston, Ill.

Chompacuted (chom-pac-uted) vt. When you get mangled and electrocuted at the same time. My friend Jesse was always scared at the elevated stations of getting hit by a train and kept saying, "I don't want to get chompacuted!" ... He is an aspiring filmmaker and plans to use it in a film someday, so maybe it will see the light of day sometime.--Brendan Walsh, Chicago.

E-dress (e-dress) n. An e-mail address. Several months ago, in the midst of retrieving/logging daily e-mail and phone messages to paper, and quite by accident, I elided the words for "e-mail address" into "e-dress." As I read it back, I thought it quite clever, and asked my co-workers if they had ever read or heard of such a term. It seems to be a natural reference to such a, now, often-used term. No one I have spoken to has seen or heard of it since I suggested it.--Karin Magnuson, Chicago.

Disenhancement (dis-en-hance-mint) n. To be used as follows: (1) When a computer company issues a new, expensive update of its software, which fixes current bugs and introduces new ones. (2) When an airline, along with some minor changes, requires 25,000 instead of 20,000 miles for a free ticket. At the present time these are called "enhancements."--Alan D. Corre, Milwaukee, Wis.

Gak (gack) n. Here's a word I made up in the '70s....It was the sound my cat made while coughing up hairballs. The word "gak" later evolved from onomatopoeia to a noun, as in "What is this gak in the sink?"--Linda M. Cain, Schaumburg, Ill.

Ginormous (gin-or-mus) adj. Uncommonly large; ridiculously out of proportion with surrounding environment; large beyond all expectations. [This] is a word I think my sister made up, but everyone who hears it begins to use it because it sounds funny and is just the perfect word to describe certain things.--Michael Page, Geneva, Ill.

Kinly (kin-lee) adj. Someone who is not blood relation, nor an in-law, but is nonetheless connected to a family. Such as my brother's in-laws ... his mother-in-law is my "kinly."--Michelle McMullin, Aurora, Ill.

Natchachuk (natch-a-chuk) v. My mom, Arlene Schau, made this word up so long ago we grew up thinking it was a real word--either Hungarian or Polish (which our mother is). Its meaning has evolved to be either "give that to me" or "let me do that."--Tim Schau, Chicago.

Shophopping (shop-hop-ping) n. As in "I refuse to go 'shophopping,' hunting sales or bargains from store to store." Going from one store to the next in search of the right fit or a flattering style qualifies too.--Joan R. Hahn, Arlington Heights, Ill.

Talkaboutable (talk-about-able) adj. Someone who is discussed, talked about, whether well known or not.--John O'Neal, Glenwood, Ill.

Verbivore (verb-I-vore) n. A word that I believe my brother Stephen Conard made up (but my friends are starting to use) is "verbivore," a noun to describe those of us who thrive on words.--Linda Conard, Springfield, Va.

Marja Mills is a staff writer for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune company.

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