December 02, 2005

Neologism-tracking down under

The monitoring of newly coined English words and phrases is, of course, not strictly an American activity, though it tends to be centered in the U.S. since that's where so much of the neologistic action is these days. A new contribution to the field of study has just been released in Australia (though much of the material is American): Ruth Wajnryb's Funktionary: A Cheeky Collection of Contemporary Words published by Lothian. Wajnryb, who also recently authored the (anti-linguist?) book Expletive Deleted: A Good Look at Bad Language, wrote about her research for Funktionary in today's Sydney Morning Herald, where she has a regular column on words.

As an example of an unusually successful recent neologism, she discusses wardrobe malfunction, the euphemism inspired by Janet Jackson's infamous Super Bowl appearance last year. Wajnryb explains that a wardrobe malfunction is also known as a Janet moment (not to be confused with a senior moment, an Oprah moment, or an ohnomoment). Wardrobe malfunction has already entered the seventh edition of Collins English Dictionary, proof that it scores well on the FUDGE scale. "FUDGE", a backronym coined by Allan Metcalf in his book Predicting New Words, spells out a set of criteria for judging the viability of neologisms: Frequency of use, Unobtrusiveness, Diversity of users and situations, Generation of other forms and meanings, and Endurance of the concept.

Though the publisher site for Funktionary says it was released in November, it apparently hasn't yet been distributed outside of Australia. Amazon UK lists a publication date of April 30, 2006, while the main US-based Amazon site doesn't have it at all. To paraphrase an old linguistic punchline, it's enough to make you wonder what the book hasn't made it out from Down Under for.

Posted by Benjamin Zimmer at December 2, 2005 03:55 PM