June 04, 2007

Flowers of babble

Mark Peters has a new column at babble ("a magazine and community for the new urban parent") that runs under the title "Jabberwocky: An Urban Parenting Dictionary". So far he's covered "The peculiar language of the childfree", "Toddlers' words for breastfeeding", and "Nine months' worth of creative ways to say 'pregnant'". Those who are fans of Mark's work at Wordlustitude will not be surprised to find him focusing on quirky coinages ("pregcellent", "bratzilla", "boobamaphone") and memorable juxtapositions ("crib lizard", "baby rabies", "crotchfruit"), all of course impeccably sourced.

One of the striking things about this neologistic exuberance is that it's mostly not motivated by the need to communicate new denotational distinctions. No doubt a future column will feature "200 words for poop", but I predict that it won't be because new parents, urban or otherwise, find the need to distinguish this culturally-important substance along dimensions of color, texture, viscosity, timing, odor and social context. Rather, the motivation for terminological multiplication -- at least the kind featured in Mark's column -- is playful and attitudinizing. These are words that people invent and use for fun, or take from toddlers' speech errors out of simple delight in the cuteness of babytalk.

But some new concepts call out to be coined into words, as another sort of pop lexicography often reminds us. Perhaps the folks at babble have invented a shorter and less solemn term for the "new urban parents" that they're targeting, but I don't see it featured on their site. "Nuppies" is too obvious, aside from being already taken several times over. I look forward to Mark's review of this question.

Posted by Mark Liberman at June 4, 2007 06:35 AM