As a copywriter who does a lot of writing and editing for technology companies, I think about words constantly. What they mean, what they imply, how they’re arranged into graceful sentences, and so on.
Now, I like the writing I do. It’s a privilege to write about a product or service in a way that makes it come alive to the reader, clearly conveys benefits, positions it effectively vis-à-vis the competition. And I love a well-turned phrase, something my clients seem to appreciate as well.
Still, the writing I do on a daily basis isn’t always “fun.” By that I mean that I can’t—and don’t—opt for frivolity or downright foolishness in written expression. That’s why I love the Washington Post’s Mensa Invitational New Word Contest. This lovely event, which I hope is still going on, invites readers to add, subtract, or change one letter in a word and create a new meaning. A case in point is “Intaxication, or the euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with.”
The other day, as I was struggling with something and getting increasingly hot under the collar, lo and behold, “flustration” popped into my noggin. (It’s got that yummy southern feel, I think.) As in, “Mary Lou got so flustrated that she had a hissy fit.” And the meaning? “Frustration so severe that it’s greatly unsettling.” Now strictly speaking, this is not an entirely new definition. It’s really more of a tweak, but it’s an honorable effort nonetheless.
Talk is cheap, they say, and that can be true. But words, even made-up words, are a continual joy. My day would be complete if someone told me that “irregardless” had made a come-back. Just kidding.
Laurel Standley says
Too funny! Irregardless was a word a fellow grad student used to use and I, of course, used to razz him about it – even found a birthday card with ‘irregardless’ on it to give him one year. But I must agree, ‘flustration’ definitely brings on images of Southern Belles fanning themselves to exhaustion and I would second the vote that it be made official.
Michael Neuendorff says
Now that Mensa contest sounds like one I’d enjoy entering. When I lived in Japan teaching English in the early 90s I’d always laugh at the all the new English words the Japanese would graciously create for us. I still recall the word ‘skinship’, which to the Japanese meant a close relationship. Makes sense, but would it make Mensa?
Kay Paumier says
As a fellow wordaholic, I enjoyed the post and love the Washington Post’s contest. Never ceases to amaze me how creative people can be when they put their minds to it. And I love “flustration.” I definitely was “flustrated” the other day, just didn’t know what to call it.
The Empress of The Style Invitational says
Actually, there isn’t any “Mensa Invitational,” but The Washington Post does have a wonderfully clever humor contest called The Style Invitational — and yes, it’s still going on. And two Invitational contests from 1998 are the sources of many of the neologisms in the list above. (But not all: For example, “decafalon” isn’t a one-letter change from “decathlon,” is it? Or “caterpallor”?)
Much better to see the the current Invitational — every week at washingtonpost.com/styleinvitational. We’ve had more than 600 contests since the ones above! The Style Invitational is published every Saturday in The Post’s Style (features) section, and every Friday afternoon at about 3:30 Eastern time. There are neologism contests regularly, but also lots of other sources of humor as well.
For example, here are some of the winners of our May 22 contest to overlap two names, or a name and an expression:
Mike Tyson Chicken:”Mmm, tastes just like ear!” (Malcolm Fleschner, Palo Alto, Calif.)
Harry S. Truman Capote: The sign on his desk says, “Young bucks, stop here!” (Lawrence McGuire, Waldorf, Md.
Sugar Ray Leonardo da Vinci: He puts guys down on canvas. (Beverley Sharp, Washington))
And here are the top winners of our May 7 neologism contest for single-word spoonerisms — where the first letters of different syllables were switched:
Inpocchio: Imprisonment for lying. (Ann Martin, Bracknell, England)
Thirber: Someone who makes up a story about the secret life of another person. (Kathy Hardis Fraeman, Olney, Md.)
Karping: “You’ll never fit in that space, Harold. You’re too close to the curb, Harold!” (Craig Dykstra, Centreville, Va.)
Scorohope: Believing you’ll get lucky because of your sign. (Chris Lopez, Reston, Va.)
In another contest, every word had to include a block of three consecutive letters of the alphabet — backward.
Flingpong: Having your own affair to get even with a cheating spouse. (Tom Witte, Montgomery Village, Md.)
Burpon: Carbonated whiskey. (Barbara Turner, Takoma Park, Md.)
Zyxzag: Path created during a DWI test when the cop makes you walk 20 steps while reciting the alphabet in reverse. (Jeff Contompasis, Ashburn, Va.)
See the rest of the winners and learn how to enter the current contest at washingtonpost.com/styleinvitational. Or you can become a fan of “Washington Post Style” on Facebook (go to facebook.com/wapostyle ) and you’ll get a link to the Invitational when it’s posted. I hope you become a regular reader and maybe even a regular entrant.
The Empress of The Style Invitational
The Washington Post
Susan Monroe says
Empress — Thanks so much for your great reply! Mea culpa. I confess that I wrote this post in a tearing hurry and didn’t check further to see what The Washington Post is doing now. This is wonderful information for both my readers and me.