December 18, 2003

Glemphy will not be Word of the Year

In an earlier post about a made-up word, Geoff Pullum asked "Funny, isn't it, how you can just look at a word and know immediately that it is not going to catch on?"

In this recent interview at, Joss Whedon comments on Fox's decision to cancel his series Firefly:

"They were so wrong that we may have to create a new word that means wronger. .... The new word for wrong that we're going to come up with—they were glemphy. They were just completely glemphy.

I sympathize, I really do. I can think of several situations in my own recent experience where "they were just completely glemphy" is the perfect description, and I don't even work in the television industry, which by reputation is significantly glemphier than academia. I'll try to do my bit for this infant coinage over the coming months. But if glemphy winds up in any semi-reputable dictionaries, or even into the American Dialect Society's Words of the Year awards, the drinks are on me.

These messages from 1999 suggest that in fact "glemphy" was not a spur-of-the moment coinage, but rather a word from Whedon's past -- if there were a lexicographic plot here, it would be thickening :-). But glemphy didn't catch on in 1999, and it probably won't in 2003. Despite the I Fear the Glemphy Man stickers circulated four years ago by the Stand up for Buffy Committee, the web was subsequently glemphyless until Whedon's recent interview, and alas, glemphyless it is likely to remain.

It's not because there's anything wrong with glemphy. Compared to advective, the coinage that Geoff was dissing, glemphy is a triumph of the word-maker's art. It offers a G-rated substitute for FUBAR and similar useful but slightly salty terms; it's got good mouth feel and decent phonetic symbolism; it comes out of not one but two pop subcultures. It's just that creating a successful new word is hard.

Posted by Mark Liberman at December 18, 2003 10:02 PM