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Mark’s Neologisms #4: Collective Nouns

‘Longshoremen walked off the docks today.  Rescue operations are continuing around the clock.”–George Carlin

A gaggle of geese…a pod of walruses….a murmuration of starlings…a pride of lions.  It seem that interest in collective nouns,  the colorful, if mostly archaic ones that define a specific group of the animal kingdom, is on a comeback.  One article I read suggested some tongue in cheek, punny new monikers for specific groups of us humanoids.   These included “an absence of waiters,” “an attitude of teenagers,” and “a brace of orthodontists.”   So of course, the light bulb in my brain, dull as it is, flashed on.  There are any number of people packs that deserve their own special sobriquet.  Here are a few suggestions.

  • A prevarication of politicians–pretty obvious
  • A Trump of narcissists–also obvious
  • A Cruz of theocrats–sadly obvious
  • A neuter of veterinarians–considering I’ve been living with one for 40 years, it’s a miracle I’m still in tact.
  • An enhancement of athletes–but this works only for those that don’t live with veterinarians
  • A babble of talk show hosts–and it certainly seems there are a babble of them.
  • An angst of existentialists–I resemble that
  • A Xerox® of Copycats–Note the ®, no I.P. issues, please.
  • A largess of lawyers–NOT!! (just wanted to see if you were paying attention)
  • A regurgitation of acid reflux sufferers–Ewwww!
  • A rash of dermatologists–It is, after all, allergy season
  • A drowning of longshoremen–You should have seen that one coming.

Any suggestions for more?  Join the vituperation of posters in the comments below.

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New Feature: Mark’s Neologisms

” I can’t wait to go home and wash all those socks.”–Julianne Moore

Let’s face it:  daily life in the new millennium is full of any number of experiences that, well, there is just no word or words to describe.    Enter Mr. World’s Most Cluttered Mind to come to the rescue.  Herein lies the ultimate descriptionary for everything you wanted to curse out but had no easy descriptive way to do so.  We’ll start, though, with a low tech dilemma, rooted in the 20th century.

Dysoxia–n.  The anxiety caused by inability to match socks when they come out of the wash.

Somebody is not following directions.

Somebody is not following directions.  (Cartoon attribution unknown)

We’ve all experienced it.   You get to the end of folding a basket of clean clothes, and there they are:  two socks that don’t match.  Even worse, maybe there is an odd number of socks left with no matches.  Three. Five. (1083)+1.**    There are any number of theories to explain this phenomenon.   The socks are alien beings, and the missing one has reported back to its home planet.  Socks are the larval form of wire hangers.  A more scientific approach is my theory of frequent wash color drift:  as socks get washed over and over, the color of each sock fades at different rates over time.   This causes subtle mismatches which, when compounded by folding several pairs,  may leave you with two socks at the end that are far apart in hue.   How does this explain being left with an odd sock at the end?  My guess is somewhere one sock disintegrated and its remains will be found in the lint drawer.

Please feel free to share your theories, and to suggest subjects for future editions of Mark’s Neologisms.  Oh, and my advice to Ms. Moore?  You’re a rich movie star.  Don’t ever wash socks,  you can afford to wear them once and throw them away.

** In case you were wondering how many socks (1083)+1 is–it is probably enough to fill the entire visible universe.  And none of them would match.

 

 

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Time Out: Lillian Mountweazel and The Incredible Jungftak

Note: The following post appears simultaneously–with a slightly different title–in my monthly guest post on The Blog of Funny Names.

“You could look it up.”–Casey Stengel

Lillian Virginia Mountweazel.  To be or not to be?

Lillian Virginia Mountweazel. To be or not to be?

According to the 1975 edition of the New  Columbia Encyclopedia,   ”Lillian Virginia Mountweazel ( 1942-1973),  was an American photographer, b. Bangs, Ohio. Turning from fountain design to photography in 1963, Mountweazel produced her celebrated portraits of the South Sierra Miwok in 1964. She was awarded government grants to make a series of photo-essays of unusual subject matter, including New York City buses, the cemeteries of Paris and rural American mailboxes. The last group was exhibited extensively abroad and published as Flags Up! (1972) Mountweazel died at 31 in an explosion while on assignment for Combustibles magazine.”

It’s an incredible story–at least, according to the 1975 edition of the New Columbia Encyclopedia– with  ”according to” being the critical phrase. Because, you see, no such person ever existed.  The entry was bogus–a common practice among publishers of dictionaries, encyclopedias and even maps.  It was designed to catch copyright infringement.  This practice was hardly new, as I shall proceed to report.  However, it caused enough of a stir  that The New Yorker coined the term Mountweazel to mean any such copyright trap in published material, and the name has stuck.  As things of this nature often take on a life of their own, the eponymous Ms. Mountweazel now has a page on Facebook and a memorial society on Flickr.

But as odd as this story sounds, the course of events that led me to this discovery is stranger still.  It was a three decade odyssey that started back in the mid-1970′s.  While playing the game of Dictionary at the home of a (much older) friend,  I came across the following in the 1943 edition of Webster’s Twentieth Century Dictionary:

jungftak, n.–a Persian bird, the male of which had only one wing, on the right side, and the female only one wing, on the left side; instead of the missing wings, the male had a hook of bone, and the female an eyelet of bone, and it was by uniting hook and eye that they were enabled to fly, — each, when alone, had to remain on the ground.

That was it; there was no pronunciation and no etymology.

Wow.  I was flummoxed.  How bizarre was this?  I had to find out more.  I went to the local library and searched every encyclopedia and every dictionary, but found nothing.  Figuring that this bird had to be mythical, I next went to books on Persian culture and mythology.  Still nothing.  I was puzzled, but not deterred, and I never forgot this bizarre word and definition.  Over the next several decades I sporadically recalled this incident and searched again, each time to no avail.  No avail, that is, until about five years ago.  Through the miracle know as the internet, the Google search term ‘jungftak’ finally bore fruit.  I uncovered a 1981 article by one Richard Rex in the journal American Speech. He had also discovered this word and had the same issues with it.  His conclusion was that the entry was an early example of what, by the time of this article, had come to be called a Mountweazel.  A copyright trap.  It was quite a letdown, but at least I finally had an answer.

I discussed this phenomenon with Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett as a caller to the NPR show A Way With Words originally broadcast in January of 2010.  You can listen to this archived broadcast here.  My segment occurs about 20 minutes into the show.      Have fun listening, and don’t take any wooden Mountweazels.

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