I grew up a Kentucky hillbilly, so actually English is my second language. I still consider Appalachian to be my native tongue, though somehow that’s never impressed employers when I say I’m bilingual.
But regardless of the language, I always just assumed every word I encountered would be in the dictionary. Imagine my confusion, then, the first time I read Lewis Carroll’s famous nonsense poem, “Jabberwocky.” You remember it, right? It’s the one that begins—
"’Twas brillig , and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe . . ."
Brillig? Slithy? I went to the dictionary. Hey, what gives? The words weren't there. Did this Lewis guy just make them up on the spot?
Wasn’t that against the law or something?
“Jabberwocky” taught me the broader concept of neologisms, or “new words.” New words enter the lexicon all the time, often in the form of slang, and sometimes they catch on with the public and become commonly used.
Once that happens, the neologism passes through the velvet rope and enters the dictionary, that decadent Studio 54 of language (all the hip words either hang out there or at Thesaurus, the new bar on 30th. I don’t like the new place myself—the drinks are expensive. Even pricey. Sometimes downright exorbitant).
Anyway, the latest member of the club appears to be selfie, which the Oxford Dictionary just declared 2013’s Neologism of the Year .
The selfie, if you don’t know, is a photo you take of yourself, often with your cellphone and usually standing in front of a mirror. Clothes are optional. Selfies are typically posted to social media sites like Facebook. Many guys, particularly politicians, also send their selfies to girlfriends, wives or mistresses, thereby providing perfect blackmail material once the relationship sours. I guess at that point the pictures become selfie-defeating.
If you’ve forgiven me for the pun, I’d like to enlist your help in promoting my own neologism: fillibious.
Catchy, huh? It already sounds like a word that should exist, so that’s half the battle right there. I need you to start using fillibious in casual conversation and then act surprised when you’re asked about it. Feel free to make up your own definition—I don’t care. Use it in emails and in Facebook posts. Tweet it to your followers. Insert it into your homework. Variants are okay as well. If your co-worker is annoying you, make sure your complaint to her supervisor also furthers our secret goal: “Anna’s fillibiousness is really getting out of hand, John!”
With luck and determination, fillibious will be the Neologism of the Year for 2014. And it’ll all be because of you, the patrons of the Jefferson County Public Library.
That’ll be pretty darn fillibial if you ask me.