A Word on New Words

It is always fun to see language grow. (No, I don’t mean menu language.)

One of my favorite rising words is “kindergarchy,” described here by Joseph Epstein as “rule by children,” a condition whereby “children have gone from background to foreground figures in domestic life, with more and more attention centered on them, their upbringing, their small accomplishments, their right relationship with parents and grandparents.”

Epstein is not a fan of kindergarchy: he calls it “dreary, boring, sadly misguided.”

A site called Word Spy cites Epstein as the first person to use the word, but this brief Time magazine obituary of Sam Levenson shows that it’s been around for several decades.

The other night at a party, a conversation arose that required a word that didn’t seem to exist. Taking part in this conversation were several people who had each been the last person to date another person before that other person took up with his/her eventual spouse. Surely there is a word for this? We couldn’t think of one, so after some trial (and plenty of error), we made one up: “penultamour.”

According to Mr. Google, this word has never been uttered by humankind. It remained open to debate whether a penultamour should feel pride or shame at having served that role.

What do you think: does this word work? Suggested improvements? And, far more worthwhile, what new words have you invented that need to be introduced to the world?


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  1. Aaron W says:

    Penultamour is entirely terrific.. A relatively frequent situation is given a term that contains one of my favorite words… And generates a pun in the process. Bravo, Dubner. Bravo.

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  2. frankenduf says:

    pundification: the process of the influx of generally unqualified commentators into news broadcasts that often displaces analytic reporters

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  3. Wil says:

    I already called the woman who was my penultamour (and I hers) to tell her to spread the word.

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  4. Seymour says:

    On the relatively popular podcast Keith and the Girl, the shows hosts invented the word “seriouso” to describe their relationship, that is long time boyfriend and girlfriend who never intend to get married. The felt the term boyfriend and girlfriend seemed to suggest some ephemerality to their relationship they could never escape while at the same time the institution of marriage was not for them.

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  5. Johnny C says:

    Do you know those small, dark ice-bounders that form on the side of the street after a snowstorm? The stuff that’s hard and black (b/c dirt, rocks, and salt have mixed in with the ice)? Could never come up with a good term for that. I’ve called it sludge-rock but would appreciate suggestions to improve it.

    Here’s another one that deserves a term: do you know the driver who accelerates on a road even though he/she clearly sees a fresh red light in front of them (as opposed to those rational drivers that take their feet off the gas and coast to a stop at the red light)? Would love suggestions on this one too.

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  6. William B says:

    I’ve been struggling to find terminology for the occasion when you are listening to music (most likely in the car), watching television, etc. and something in the airwaves makes you think your cell phone is ringing. Come on, everybody’s been there, it happens to me all of the time. I’ve come up with “audio reprobria”, any other suggestions.

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  7. Colin says:

    Wasn’t there a whole Dane Cook movie about that concept? Good Luck Chuck? Didn’t see it, but that was the gist I got from the preview.

    I’m not sure whether that means in relation to the quality of the term.

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  8. Raj Pandravada says:

    Punultamour – nice one, but it doesn’t roll off the tongue in a convincing fashion… my humble suggestion – Antebeau.
    Definitely sounds snooty enough to fool a few people, IMHO.

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