Style Conversational Week 1482: We write simple one day

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Meanwhile, the Loser Community also found numerous words that seem more advanced or complicated than some deemed “less simple”: village yes, camp no; creature, yes, but not mouse, dinosaur, kitten or puppy. And most bizarrely: the inclusion of “youngling,” a word I knew only from the 16th-century ″Coventry Carol,” while “youth,” “infant,” “teen,” “teenager” all get big nopes.

My hunch was that since Munroe had engineered his list to include variations in parts of speech (plurals, past tense, etc.), he must have entered “-ling,” as in “Earthling,” as a suffix that would be acceptable no matter which word on the list it was attached to. (I remember realizing this in an early spell-checker at work when I typed in “dogly” and it didn’t bat an eyelash.) But better than hunching is actually finding out. Here’s Randall’s emailed explanations of both matters. (I just knew he’d be a nice guy; I’m currently listening to an audio version of his “What If” book answering readers’ weird science hypotheticals, and it’s a hoot.)

“Thanks for reaching out! I’m excited to see the results of the contest.

“The absence of ‘nine’ is pretty straightforward. Larger numbers are less common — we say ’8533′ a lot less often than ‘2′ — though round numbers like 10 and 20 are more common. The numbers one, two, three, four, etc., descend in frequency, and they drop below the top 1,000 at nine. Ten jumps back up, so it makes the list, leaving nine the odd one out. I could have tweaked the wordlist to change that, but I left it because it’s how the data worked out and I thought it was funny that there was one number I couldn’t say.

“‘Youngling’ is trickier.

“It’s hard to define what a word is. ‘Was’ is ostensibly the same word as ‘being’ — they’re both conjugations of ‘be.’ And if ‘spider’ and ‘man’ are both allowed, is ‘spider-man’ okay but not ‘spiderman’? If ‘ugh’ and ‘boring’ were allowed, should ‘ughhhhhh, boooooring’ be, too? There ended up being a lot of subjective judgment in defining the list. I tried to be generous about what I counted, using software to narrow down and group together different forms of words, but rejecting some things that seemed too different.

“My software suggested that ‘young’ and ‘youngling’ were arguably the same word [well, “youngling” is a singular noun; “young” can be a noun but usually just as a plural — the E]. And honestly, I don’t remember [Simple Writer dates to 2015; here’s his blog post about it from then] whether I didn’t notice it (nestled between ‘younger’ and ‘youngest’) or left it in as a Star Wars easter egg because ‘youngling’ is such a funny word. Either one is plausible, but I went over the list pretty carefully, so I think I must have left it in on purpose.

“Sorry if this is too much detail!”

So there it is. Your next question might well be: Why would Loser Coleman Glenn think to try out such an obscure word? (Lines from his “simple”-word version of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18, naturally in iambic pentameter: “The summer dies, but you will always stay/ A youngling in some future reader’s thought.”) It must have been because in last Thursday’s Style Conversational column — after I’d posted the week’s Invitational — I linked to this almost illegible Giant Mess o’ Words that Loser Kevin Dopart had dug up that day. Coleman must have seen it there; his was the only entry to include the word.

It’s the first Clowning Achievement — indeed, the first ink “above the fold” — for rookie Pam Shermeyer, but her name has graced the Invite so often recently that bigshotdom seemed inevitable. Pam, who’s an editor for the Detroit News, first got Invite ink this past December in our Week 1463 contest for riddle-type jokes featuring spoonerisms, with this honorable mention: “How is Donald Trump like Mike Pence? One traffics in fibs and lies; the other’s pestered by libs and flies.”

Pam next popped up three weeks later in our contest for newspaper corrections: “Yesterday’s article about the Springfield High valedictorian should have said that she would be pursuing a BS-MD program, a path to medical school, rather than a BDSM program.” Then the hits just kept on coming: all honorable mentions, but constantly: One each in Weeks 1068, 1070, 1071, 1074, 1076; then two last week for the product reviews. And now: Disembodied Clown Head on a Stick! Really, is there anything else left to aspire to?

The rest of the Losers’ Circle is filled by the Invite-ubiquitous Chris Doyle, Duncan Stevens and — oh, Duncan Stevens, who scored both third and fourth places; both of them got honorable-mention ink as well this week. (I went back and checked the names for non-inking entries on my shortlist, and Duncan is all over that, too; he just had a stellar week.)

Ace Copy Editors Doug Norwood and Ponch Garcia are off this week, but Also Ace Copy Editor Jordan Melendez cited Duncan’s poem about Tom Brady’s retirement and unretirement as her fave.

And here are a couple of other fine but non-inking entries about using Simple Writer:

The Missing Peace

In this big group of words

(One hundred times ten)

“Break” is allowed; the same goes for “bend”;

“Sister’s” okay, as well as “your brother”

Even “War” makes the cut; just not the other.

So why is there music, art, love and dance

When we’re missing the one thing

We should all give a chance?
— Frank Mann

This word-search is driving me mad!

All the fun I could have, I have had.

Look for words you can use;

If they’re red, then you lose!

And the out-come? Not “good,” but “less-bad.”

— Beverley Sharp

The Simple Writer helped me choose the words

To put here in these lines for you to read.

But why? I think this effort’s for the birds:

You big-brain people, simple words don’t need.

— Mark Raffman

New-word order: This week’s ScrabbleGrams contest (and neologisms in general)

Week 1482 is our ninth turn at digging into the 17-year-old “Big Book of ScrabbleGrams” so that you can think of new words and terms that the editors decidedly did not have in mind when they wrote up their various seven-letter sets.

This week it’s the same drill as our many other neologism contests; if you’ve been playing the New York Times’s online Spelling Bee game, remember the big difference with ScrabbleGrams: You cannot use a single tile more than once in your term; just think of each letter as a physical tile you can move around. Note also that you don’t have to use all seven letters; I’ll accept five- and six-letter words as well if they’re really good words.

I weary even myself with directions on entry formatting, so please read the directions, which are spelled out even more patiently on this week’s entry form. Being able to sort the entries is especially useful in a contest like this, where I’d like to group all the entries for each of the 36 letter sets. (Good practice for next week’s horse names!)

Here are the top four from Tile Invitational VIII, about a year ago (the rest are here); huh, they’re all six-letter terms.

4. ACELNPU > UNCLAP: To sheepishly stop applauding when you realize no one else is, then look around to see who the “idiot” was. (Eric Nelkin)

3. AENPRRT > REPANT: What one should do immediately after succumbing to sins of the flesh — especially if there’s a sound at the door. (Deanna Busick)

2. CEIPRST > CREPIT: Not fallen apart yet. “Oh, no, Grandma’s very crepit. ‘Arrhythmia’ is just the name of her dance team.” (Frank Osen)

1. AAEPPRT > PAP ART: My OB/GYN is so skilled, she doesn’t just make a “smear” … (Danielle Nowlin)

SOME rules of thumb about writing neologisms: We have different challenges in our various neologism contests: For example, Tour de Fours requires you to use a given four-letter block in any order; Hyphen the Terrible makes you combine halves of two different words. But there are rules of thumb that apply to all. Here are some that occurred to me in some recent Invite neologism contests (I just grabbed some anonymous non-inking entries as examples; I have no idea who wrote them).

First of all, virtually all our neologisms are plays on existing words, and almost always, their definitions should relate to them in some way. Here’s one that doesn’t (not to mention it’s in rather bad taste): Interpretive cancer: “Look! Your tumor is shaped kind of like a turtle!” Unless I’m missing something more relevant, the neologism is a one-letter change from “interpretive dancer.” Which has no connection to a tumor-shaped turtle.

There ought to be something amusing about it: Duh, but all the time, people think of synonyms that happen to come from the week’s assigned letters or whatever. Here’s one from the recent Hyphen the Terrible contest: Diver-gent + re-search: gent-search: seek male companionship. Okay. Not a joke.

Your definition should reflect the part of speech of the word, even a made-up word: Neologisms work for us as words because we can understand them, and often that’s because they contain endings or other elements that identify them as nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc. So if your word ends in -tion, -ity, -ment, -ity, that word’s gotta be a noun — even if you made up the word yourself, it still has to be a noun. So this is not good: “Abaility: Capable of getting out of jail while awaiting trial” — “Capable” is an adjective, not a noun. That would have been an acceptable (though not funny) definition for “abailable,” which has the adjective ending -able; it would be playing off “available” rather than “ability” but at least it would make sense.

Definitions of combined (portmanteau) words can depend on their order. This didn’t work: “Poliquette: Polite police who knock before breaking the door down.” “Poliquette” wouldn’t be a type of police; it would be a type of etiquette as practiced by police.

Your wordplay shouldn’t be based on a misspelling. From the recent Tour de Fours: Dedbirds: What they call the St. Louis Cardinals whenever they’re eliminated. Why “Ded”? Because the challenge was to use the four letters BIDE together in any order, and the A wouldn’t have qualified because the E had to be next to the D. Sorry, but that doesn’t work as a neologism.

Avoid repeating the word, or a major part of the word, in your definition. My mother-in-law, bless her heart, once piped up: “What do you call it when all the cars in the nation are pink?” While the Word = Definition structure doesn’t telegraph the punchline, at least, it’s still to be avoided. No: “Eeeeecliner: A chair that reclines too much.” On the other hand, heavy-handed efforts to avoid repeating the word, such as to say “ungulate” rather than “deer,” are not great either.

Okay, that’s enough Imperial wisdom for today, children. Have fun with the letters.

‘Everything’s Coming Up Moses’: How to have a Loserly Seder

Every Passover when I’m in charge of the Seder, I always include at least a couple of the literally hundreds of parodies for Passover written by Loser Barbara Sarshik, who GIVES AWAY her whole collection of them. They’re always excellent parodies — and you know my standards — of show tunes, Disney numbers, etc., witty and often funny, but never in bad taste. And they fit into various parts of the Seder. This time she’s even providing some karaoke tracks so you can have some accompaniment! And there’s a new parody this year, set to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” for the beginning of the Seder. Funniest verse:

The Pharaoh made the Hebrews cry/ Because he was a wicked guy./ More evil than Lex Luthor or Darth Vader.

But God set all our people free,/ Released us from our misery, And that is why we gather at our Seder.

It’s our Seder. It’s our Seder. It’s our Seder. It’s our Seder.

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