As I almost always do when judging a Style Invitational neologism contest — I figure conservatively that I’ve judged close to 100,000 ideas for new words over my 19-year reign as Empress — I found lots of funny, clever ideas to like among the 1,100 entries to Week 1491, a challenge to add a letter to an existing word and describe the new word. In fact, my “shortlist” of inkworthies included about 1 in 10 of the entries, and — due to extra room on the print page — more than half of those got ink in this week’s results. (See, Losers, the odds are actually pretty good! Compare with The New Yorker’s cartoon caption contest: typically 5,000-plus entries, three get ink. This week, the Invite has 63. New Yorker: You get one try per week. We give you 25.)
But I also got, as I always do, entries that didn’t do the trick, even when they had a germ of a good idea, even a purulent rash of a good idea. Today I’ll use some non-inking entries from Week 1491 to illustrate some problem areas (I never looked up who wrote them, so your secret is safe with not-even-me), for the add-a-letter contest in particular and neologisms in general. I’ve gone through this exercise in past columns, but the hits just keep on coming, so …
Does the definition match the part of speech of the neologism? What? Your neologism isn’t even a real word — how I can Smarty Pants Empress declare that it’s an adjective when you, the creator, defined it as a noun? Because as English-readers we’re attuned to the word endings and other cues that tell us — and, mainly, because it’s usually modifying a word we do know. Here’s one entry:
“Racknowledge: Experienced breast man.” Acknowledge: Verb. Breast man: Noun. No no no.
“Abombinable: A very bad bomb maker, such as one that blows himself up while making or testing the bomb.” (More on this one later.) Yes, a noun may end in an adjectival ending, you deplorable. But not this noun.
Here’s one in which the writer understood that their [I’m practicing using the singular “they”] neologism was a verb (since “adorn” is a verb), because they used it as a verb in their sentence. But still they defined it as a noun, a thing. “Badorn: A failure in home decor. ‘When Stephanie badorned her bedroom, her sister made an emergency call to Martha Stewart.’” The fix here is easy: “Badorn: To fail at home decor.” (If an entry is otherwise thrilling, I’m willing to fix this problem if it’s easy to do.)
One way out of this problem: If you have a good word but your definition seems too obvious or clunky — defining adjectives with “pertaining to,” etc., can seem leaden — you can fudge it by just going to the funny part. That’s what Karen Lambert did with Carcophony: “Are we there yet?” “It’s my turn to sit up front!” “Are we there yet?” “I need to use the bathroom! “She pushed me!” “Are we there yet?” “Did not, he pushed me first!” “Are we there yet?”
Is there anything funny about it? “Dockument: Boat slip receipt.” Okay, that could be amusing if you turned in your boat slip receipt at the marina office and included a note saying, “Here’s my DOCKument hahahah.” Or not. Reading it out of context in the newspaper? Not.
It also doesn’t help to have wordy, unconversational language in the description: “MamoMeba: Proliferating ABBA derivatives.” “Abombinable: A very bad bomb maker, such as one that blows himself up while making or testing the bomb.”
Does the definition relate at least a little to the original word? If it does, your joke is far more likely to be funny; if it doesn’t, readers might be scratching their heads to get it. Look at this one, a change from “bovine”: “Brovine: the frat boy gossip network. ‘I heard through the brovine, McKenzie says you need to manscape, bro.’ ” A cow? On top of that, the writer abandons “bovine” after adding the letter, playing instead on “grapevine,” sapping the humor from a promising idea.
Also: “Began > Beegan: Someone who eats only honey.” "Carmen > Charmen: Barbeque guys, as in ‘We made the salads and desserts, but the Charmen cooked the meat.’” Carmen?
Do you stomp on the joke by repeating the key word? “Abombinable: A very bad bomb maker.” “Abysmale: Obnoxious male.” Try for a graceful alternative, like Roger Dalrymple’s “Abysmale: Your doofus brother-in-law.”
But: Do you awkwardly avoid repeating the key word? “Camelra: A video recording device hidden under a desert pack animal’s false hump.” You might say “dromedary” instead of “desert pack animal.” But it’d also have helped to come up with a funny scenario of why there was a camera hidden in a fake camel hump.
Does the definition have any relevance to our lives? “Barksheesh: A bribe paid to dog groomers in parts of Asia and North Africa.” I particularly enjoy neologisms that we can use in the real world; I’m going to guess that this one wouldn’t have a lot of use. (One notable exception this week: Jesse Frankovich’s utterly zany “Chat on a Hot Tin Roof”: “OMG, this tin roof is hot!” “LOL, I know, right?”)
Has it already gotten ink in an earlier contest? Thanks to the Super-Fabulous Loser Elden Carnahan, you can instantly search for your word through every Invite since Week 1 by going to this text file. (Or click on “All Invitational Text” on the homepage of the Losers’ website, NRARS.org.) Submitted in Week 1491 with definitions pretty much the same as — or almost identical to — the earlier Invite ink: “Compenisation: Buying a Porsche.” 2003: “Compenisate: To buy a red Porsche for reasons you don’t quite understand.” (Stephen Dudzik) “Dyspeepsia: What you get from eating too many marshmallow chicks on Easter.” “Dyspeepsia: The result of eating too much Easter candy.” (Marian Phelps) “Defibrillatte: A coffee drink strong enough to revive the dead.” “Defibrillatte: Really, really strong coffee. (John Griessmayer) That last definition was better than the original, but not different enough.
Is it too common in general? “Demockracy: If I lose, it’s fraud.” The word with the same general meaning generates tens of thousands of Google hits.
For this particular add-a-letter contest: Did you really substitute another letter? “Ambidsextrous: having equal dexterity from either side of the bed.” “Ambisextrous” would have been a good neologism, but that D is extraneous; it’s there just to meet the rules of the contest.
This one almost got big ink until I noticed that it was missing an M — and was weakened when I added it: Coomentary: Play-by-play at the Puppy Bowl, featuring such analysis as “Awwwww” and “Oh, awwww.” It would have had to be Coommentary, which isn’t “coo.”
Is your writing clear? As true for virtually everything that everyone writes, it’s useful to have someone else read it to see if the reader understands what you’re getting at (not to mention flag embarrassing typos). Case in point: The original definition for Joanne Free’s neologism “chompulsion” was “the deep urge one has to fight while in the dentist’s chair.” I myself cop to having occasionally felt like biting the hand that drilled me, so I sent Joanne’s entry to Bob Staake as possible cartoon fodder.
What hadn’t occurred to me was that the entry’s wording had a certain ambiguity — enough for Bob to read “the deep urge one has to fight” as “a deep urge to fight,” rather than “one has to fight the urge,” leading to the sketch of the tooth-pulling at the top of this page. You can argue that “chompulsion” is obviously about chomping, but I’d just received proof that it can be misread. So I tweaked it to “The deep urge one has to fight while the dentist is jabbing you in the mouth.” While “fight” might still be read about fighting the dentist rather than the urge, at least we’re clearly talking about biting.
(As always, Bob offers both sketches and finished drawings for his Style Invitational work at bobstaake.com/SI; I saw that he recently sold off a big set of small drawings to a Staake fan who might not even have been an Invite fan.)
What Pleased Ponch: Ace Copy Editor Ponch Garcia — who’ll be our usual copy editor for the Invite now that Doug Norwood has retired from The Post — had a good time reading the entries this week, all of which appear both in print and online. His faves all came from the honorable mentions:
Abhortionist: One who uses personal biases to orchestrate a miscarriage of justice. (Byron Miller)
Children of the Corny: Kids who suffer through dad jokes. (Duncan Stevens)
Apooplectic: So angry that you lose your … temper. (Frank Mann)
Aromageddon: Cataclysmic event that occurs when you enter your teenager’s room. (Duncan Stevens)
Bawdminton: The shuttlecock has a different function in this party version. (Diane Lucitt, Ellicott City)
Chat on a Hot Tin Roof: “OMG, this tin roof is hot!” “LOL, I know, right?” (Jesse Frankovich) [Yup, zany nonsense does work once in a while!]
Malice’s Restaurant: They won’t let you have a single thing you want. (Ann Martin)
Cheeriots: Favorite breakfast of the Oat Keepers. (Jonathan Jensen)
And the “And Last," so apropos to a discussion of writing short-form entries: Agonym: That short Style Invitational entry that’s a sure winner if you can just get the wording right, though maybe, if you change the — no, that’d be too abstruse, it needs to be more obvious, but — hey, how about — no, you already tried that, so … (Frank Mullen III, whose 49 blots of ink date back to 2002)
No addmission* -- A couple of unprintables: (*Kevin Dopart’s non-inking honorable-mention subhead) Man, if you’ve read this far, surely you’re not going to complain over these funny-but-no entries (I felt that Wendy Shang’s “exaggerbate” for overstating your need for sex was as far as I could go in the Invite).
Erecticon: :---- Texting shorthand for “Thinking about you.” (Frank Mullen III)
And even more noey: Ejaculatte: coffee with steamy milk. (Jeff Hazle) Oh, Jeff …
You’d think it was the Fourth of July or something …
Enjoy the week off! Skipping this week’s contest is the only sane way I can get the July 28/31 Invitational done before the Royal Consort and I leave for Loserfest in Niagara Falls, Ontario, July 25-30.
That week’s column will have the new contest of Week 1499, along with the compilation of extra ink from earlier contests, and I’ll have them finished in advance before we leave on Monday morning, ready to go up on the morning of Thursday the 28th. The cycle continues, though: Though most of the Festering Losers, as Loserfest Pope Kyle Hendrickson refers to the tripsters, probably won’t even mention the Invite for the duration, I’ll be taking a set of entries to judge while I’m in riding the car or wherever (we’re carpooling). And I’ll make sure from Niagara that the Invite goes up on Thursday the 28th, share it on Facebook, send out the newsletter, etc. And the prizes from the week before, I’ll catch up with them when I get back; you’ll all chill, I know.
Go have a good weekend and celebrate whatever freedom you have left. Next week we’ll see how that conservative-humor contest pans out. And don’t forget that you still have till Tuesday, July 5, to send me poems using National Spelling Bee words! wapo.st/invite1494.