Despite the many thousands of words at our disposal, the English language can be inadequate. Word Fugitives comes to the rescue, supplying hundreds of inspired words coined or redefined to meet everyday needs. For instance, wouldn’t it be handy to have a word for the momentary confusion people experience when they hear a cell phone ringing and wonder if it is theirs? (How about fauxcellarm, phonundrum, or pandephonium?) This book grew out of Barbara Wallraff’s popular column in The Atlantic Monthly and will inspire anyone who ever struggles to describe their world.
I’ll be honest. I picked up Word Fugitives because I liked its cover. An Old West wanted poster plasters the front, calling for the attention of dictionary-abiding citizens, while a bullet hole punctuates the letter “O” in “Word.”
But the catchy visuals are just a prelude to the entertainment inside this book, where each chapter corrals words we need for a specific area of life. One chapter suggests words we could use that relate to our inner lives. For instance, what should we call the experience of having recently heard about something for the first time and then noticing it everywhere? (Newbiquitous? Coincidensity?) What word could we use for the irrational fear that no one will show up when we’re throwing a party? (How about guestlessness, empty-fest syndrome, or fete-alism?)
Another chapter focuses on words to describe our material world. What is the term for a disposable bag caught in a tree, flapping in the wind? (An urban tumbleweed? A shopper’s kite?) Is there a practical term to describe the phenomenon when an electronic device stops working, resumes working perfectly while the repair person checks it, then quits working again as soon as you’re on your own with it? (On the wink? Hocus operandi?)
Word Fugitives is creative, entertaining, and informative. I’ll always keep it within reach on my bookshelf.
Reader, what life experience do you wish there was a word for?