Saturday, November 14, 2009

Besieged by bazillions

Today we’ll examine the horrendous act of blending two decent words into one trendy and ugly new thing (I hate to call the new things “words”). Let me state what should be obvious by now: I am not a linguist. Linguists are scholars. They really, really know about words. Also, they describe language as they study it. Describing what has been done to our language is markedly different from prescribing what needs to be done.

Your favored columnist (that would be me), on the other hand, prescribes like a madman. He is no language scholar, nor does he claim to be. He’s more of a, um, well, not to put too fine a point on this, a language curmudgeon. And today’s griping will focus, as said, on that one part of our language’s evolution that gives us ugly, irritating, overused and unnecessary-to-begin-with new words.

Of course there are some great new words in our lives today, and thank heavens. After all, very few of us want to go around speaking the English of Chaucer. But some of the new stuff, well, keep reading.

Many young people, all over the world, now say that they are chillaxin’. In case that’s confusing, they’re both relaxing and “chilling,” another word for relaxing. So with the new word, we get two words for relaxing combined needlessly into one new and ugly word.

We can’t blame youth alone for this trend. TV Guide recently wrote, “Is there a showmance in the works on Top Chef’?” Of course, “bromance” has been around for a good while, combining the deep affection that males, not necessarily brothers in fact, feel for each other. It only makes sense, I suppose, that if the bromance is on a TV show, we get a showmance.

Of course, if things go badly in a bromance or a showmance, you can end up with frenemies — a combo of friends at times and enemies at other times. Wow. Does any of this bother you, too, or should I simply be chillaxin’?

It seems to me that this kind of word blending began about the time we started using “guesstimate,” which is said to have come to us from statisticians in the mid 1930s. Some feel that the delicious combo “guesstimate” means a guess that is made without sufficient information. Really? I’d call that a guess. Others say it’s an estimate arrived at by conjecture. Again, I’d go with “guess” or “estimate,” and I’d never feel deprived by not using “guesstimate.”

Anyway (and please, try to avoid ever saying “anyways”), we’ve now gone down the path to “dinnertainment” (dinner with entertainment, of course), “twonversation” (I’m not sure what that means, but it rhymes with “conversation,” if that helps), “daditude” for today’s fathers and, for extra thin men, “manorexic.” Shoot, there’s even a respected organization in D.C. now with a building named “The Newseum.” Golly, isn’t our new language swell?

Here’s a request from me to you: Might we please stop with the -illion permutations, such as gazillion, jillion, bajillion and gadzillion? Maybe we can move into kill-illion. Oh, and let’s toss “ginormous,” the blend of “gigantic” and “enormous,” into the Kill Pile, as well. It’s been around since 1948; that’s long enough.

Previous generations used to say “We’re doing this for the umpteenth time,” and that was similar to the –illions. Maybe it was less irritating to me because it didn’t spawn an umpzillion permutations.

My clever nephew Steve Clark has written me to say that he agrees — “daycation” and “staycation” are unappealing (not his exact word, but you get the drift), and he offers us some new -cation terms, just to see how they fly: Praycation — a religious day camp; Haycation — a farmers’ retreat; Gaycation — a getaway to San Francisco; and Ayyy-cation — a chance to spend the day with Henry Winkler.

He sent more, but I’ll stop here. The list could go on ad Newseum.


Mike Clark writes a monthly language column for the News & Record. Reach him at or follow him on Twitter (


Mark said...

This was hunormously infotaining.

Janice said...

Thanks for the link to your blog. Love it!

The first time I heard the word ginormous in use was on TV by the pros!