Friday, November 28, 2014

Adorkable and Hangry?

As an English teacher - and one who teaches to non-native speakers of English, I am often struck by words that are seemingly "invented" by speakers every year.  I often wonder whether these words sometimes crop up as slips of the tongue. For example, years ago, I remember meeting and talking with a very distinguished French professor in social science (Professor Bruno Latour) while he was at UCSD.  I was very nervous and excited to meet him, so as I was describing my observations at a symposium on chimpanzees, instead of saying "chimpanzee symposium," I said "chimposium." As soon as I said the word, he laughed and thought it was quite clever. In fact, the new word was what came out of my mouth as a result of being nervous and speaking quickly. I've used the word subsequently, of course, and it's possible that the term might have spread in our community of anthropologists, primatologists, and sociologists of science to refer to subsequent gatherings of chimpanzee experts. In fact, I found the word was invented and used more recently here with a slightly different meaning..

There is a TED talk that discusses neologisms such as adorkable and hangry (the title of this article) and how they become "real" words. The topic was especially intriguing to me because of my own memorable innovation (it's possible that many others have made that same slip of the tongue, however).  Because of that phenomenon, I can easily imagine words like "adorkable" (an adorable dork?) and "hangry" (simultaneous feeling of being hungry and angry) slipping out of someone's mouth while trying to describe their feelings of being both hungry and angry. I can also imagine listeners' approval and recognition of an imaginative new word and of it spreading from that one listener and speaker to his or her community and beyond. Ann Curzan doesn't address the "invention" of words such as "adorkable" and "hangry," but because of my own experience, I believe that sometimes new words or usages of words come into being as productions of some natural wiring in the brain that produces these combination words. In fact, an article about slips of the tongue and Freudian slips delves into this phenomenon and how these expressions can easily get picked up by an internet-wired community of speakers. I never tire of learning about language.

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