May 18, 2004

Snugglebunny is mine

Bill Poser reports to stunned Language Log readers that (where does he find this stuff?) some people think they can claim family ownership of words. He disapproves. But why? So Peri Fleisher is convinced that she deserves some cheap Google™ stock options on the grounds that before she was born her great-uncle Edward Kasner (who died when she was 4) introduced the number name googol on a suggestion by his 9-year-old nephew Milton Sirotta? Sounds like a solid case to me! Kudos to Peri. Greedy bitch? Sure. But who said there's something wrong with that all of a sudden? What're you, a communist? Poser's just mad because he didn't think of it. I'm not so appalled. In fact I want in. The interesting thing about Fleisher's claim is that she doesn't say she invented any word herself; the word googol has been in common use for decades. Her vague threats to sue are based on a mere feeling of inherent right through family connection and phonetic similarity. Well, my maternal grandmother appears to have coined the word crump (a British food term meaning fried bread), so I should have rights to that. And I see no reason why the relation should be as close as grandmother or great-uncle. I feel sure that ancestors of mine have coined numerous other words. In fact I have instructed my lawyers (Messrs Dewey, Cheatham and Howe of Boston and San José) to prepare papers seeking a temporary injunction stipulating that I and my heirs have ownership of, and retain all rights in, the following words and all words that sound like them: the verb snuggle and all derivatives thereof (e.g. snugglebunny); the adjective parsimonious; the preposition of; and the nouns crump, ether, parsley, helicopter, oligarchy, and rhodium. So hands off.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at May 18, 2004 04:01 PM