December 25, 2005

Not a brilliantological invention

Gene Shalit's opinion of the new King Kong is that it is "so gargantuan that I must create new words to describe it: fabularious... a brilliantological humongousness of marvelosity". There's that funny layperson's fetishizing of words again: why do people think that to say something impressive you need new words? What you need is skill in deploying the ones we already have. You should at least have a crack at explaining your view before giving up and alleging inadequacy in the English word stock.

But enough curmudgeonliness, let's just do some empirical work. Did Gene's amateur efforts in lexical morphology actually result in any new words? It turns out that inventing words for a language as well stocked as English is not quite as easy as you might think.

First, fabularious is not original; it was invented (not necessarily for the first time) by a blogger named Sam in an affectionate comment addressed to a blogger named Julia on February 11, 2004 ("You are hilarious and fabulous, so much so that I am combining it into a single word--Fabularious. Use it, love it"). Second, marvelosity is not new either: it gets 377 Google hits. Third, humongousness certainly isn't new; the jocular adjective it is regularly derived from, humongous, gets about 2.37 million hits, so I was surprised to find that humongousness got only 471; but that's still enough to quash the claim of inventing new words.

So Gene is down to just one out of four. And brilliantological isn't exactly brilliant, is it? Just about every native speaker knows that for any morpheme X of the appropriate sort, the appropriate sort being either a noun or what The Cambridge Grammar calls a combining form (like geo- or morpho-), Xological means having to do with or belonging to Xology, and Xology is the academic study of whatever the root X denotes (e.g., the earth if X = geo). So ‘King Kong’ has something to do with the academic study of... brilliant?

As we have definitely remarked before here on Language Log, sometimes you just absolutely know that a word is not going to catch on, don't you?

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at December 25, 2005 10:56 PM