OddSalon Talk: MISCHIEF

OddSalon is a beautiful collection of wolpertinger-loving historically minded nerds of drinking age who get together every two weeks and tell each other good stories about the amazing lives and creations of people in the past. I heard about OddSalon recently, immediately signed up to talk about cutthroats, and gave my talk a week ago on August 23rd. The theme of the night was Mischief, and the other talks involved the Hellfire Club, cryptozoology, Satanism, and pirates. I’m very much looking forward to the Heist show next week.

I have matched up the audio with my slides from the night and present to you here my latest rundown of what cutthroats are, where they came from, and what fun can be had with them.

In this talk, I say and show vulgar words. Be warned and enjoy.

Cutthroats by Year of First Citation


What’s a cutthroat compound? I’m happy to explain.

The chart above was created with the first usage dates from 1067 cutthroats. I currently have 1107 cutthroat candidates, but 40 of them are surnames or are otherwise dateless.

I’ve included a variant of the chart below with some of the authors and works that caused spikes in specific years. A number of first citations are translations from Greek or bilingual dictionaries that were subsequently used in other English texts:

I’m still leveling up my Excel abilities, but having this rough chart that includes 1067 cutthroat compounds is so much better than what I had before:


My 2012 chart of 483 cutthroats :

Screen Shot 2016-04-10 at 11.44.50 PM

Volker Gast’s 2009 estimates:

volker gast frequency 1 volker gast frequency 2

This is progress.

Words of the year: 2015

In 2015, I sang a lot of karaoke, I hugged Paul F. Tompkins, I spoke at DSNA, I became an aunt, I visited the Internet Archive, I found historical gems in Tom Dalzell’s slang library, I packed stickers with Erin McKean, and I thought a lot about words.

I started a list of word of the year candidates last June when Caitlyn Jenner dramatically increased the global visibility of trans and nonbinary people. With new awareness comes new opportunities for allies to listen and promote more considerate terms in conversation. I added she, preferred pronouns, passing, cis, self-identify, and gender-affirming surgery to the list to reflect that monumental shift in awareness.

Candidate words like #staywoke, privilege, microaggression, safe space, and depraved heart murder reflect the continued need for the #blacklivesmatter movement. Wondaland Records’ electrifying protest song Hell You Talmbout rose up in August, which records the names of the dead and gives a mighty voice to the hashtag #SayHerName.

There was cause for humanity to celebrate with the court decision behind #LoveWins and the discovery of Homo Naledi remains in South Africa, a new human species that was formally named in September. #Ham4Ham shows stopped traffic and my productivity in the fall, especially after finding an archive of all the videos. New slang flowed into the mainstream, including Netflix and chill, on fleek, smol, basic, and thirsty.

At the end of 2015, professional lexical organizations chose identity, singular they, -ism, 😂, and captain’s call as their respective words of the year. (Click to see a list of all past Word of the Year winners). Encyclopedia Briannica has chosen to define 2015 with two words: one to represent the shifting of opinions in professional circles, and one to commemorate personal events in 2015.

Professional Word of the Year: Singular THEY

When I am a freelance copy editor, I flow between many styles and levels of formality, tailoring my approach to help the individual or company reach their intended audience with intention and clarity. Across all the genres, though, I do not tolerate the default he pronoun. “The first player goes. He rolls the dice. He moves the token.” Unacceptable. I recognize that ‘he or she’ quickly becomes bulky, and that ‘it’ is disrespectful to human life, but those would only be obstacles if English didn’t already have they. It is a genderless pronoun that includes all people, that gives them respect but does not exclude in order to do so. If used carelessly, it could make speech less clear, but that is true of all words in all sentences.

We already use they to describe people we don’t know well, as in “Someone at the gas station parked awkwardly. I asked them to move and they were rude about it.” The difference now is that some individuals are choosing they/them as their preferred pronouns. You could know someone intimately for 20 years and say “Have you met my friend, Mal? They sang me a song on my birthday.”

malblum              briannica

Last April, a flurry of pro-singular they tweets appeared during and after the annual American Copy Editors Society (ACES) meeting. Their approval of the pronoun as a gender-free solution means the form will appear more and more consistently, and unconsciously influence what people consider to be standard, reinforcing the choice as it becomes more and more commonplace.

The momentous thing about singular they coming to the forefront is that most Words of the Year are content words (adjectives, nouns and verbs) that somehow encapsulate the mood of the year. Content words pop in and out of language all the time, getting modified and replaced by newer content words as they lose their novelty and potency. Singular they, and because x a few years ago, buck that trend because they are function words (pronouns, prepositions, particles and conjunctions). Function words are the basic foundational parts of language that give structure to sentences (function words in italics).

If you try reading the Lord’s Prayer in Middle English or Old English, the spelling will throw you off, but you’ll be able to pick out function words like and, we, our, us, of, on, and to, because they haven’t changed much in 1000 years. That’s why this shift of approval and need for a genderless pronoun is so exciting. They has been around for a long time, but because of the growing understanding that there is a difference between gender identity, sex, and sexual orientation, its ambiguous features are suddenly exactly what we need. This shift to singular they is the Hale-Bopp function word change of your lifetime.

Personal Word of the Year: #STEVENBOMB

Through 99 Percent Invisible, Octothorpean puzzles, and Twitter hashtags, octothorpe ran a strong campaign to become my personal word of 2015. In the end, it was overshadowed by a word associated with my person of the year.

To begin with, Steven Universe is a gorgeously well-planned cartoon that premiered in late 2013 and wrapped up its first season in March 2015. There have only been 26 more 11-minute episodes since then. They now air sporadically in unexpected groupings that the Crewniverse itself calls Stevenbombs.


The term comes from the episode “Garnet’s Universe” in which Steven ambushes the stoic but loving Garnet from above, declaring “STEVENBOMB!” and landing softly on her square head. I live and die by Stevenbombs: waiting for their announcement, absorbing the new revelations and songs, and realizing three episodes in that five is not going to be enough.

Last January, molecular biologist and board game evangelist Steven Tan resolved to play all 270 of his table top games during 2015. He chronicled that journey on Instagram, and completed the challenge in early December. Last January, I started dating that very same Steven Tan.

He dropped from the rafters like Steven Universe into my weekly game night, bursting into song and quickly becoming someone I looked forward to solving puzzles with. His intelligent and charming presence in 2015 was an unplanned joy that amplified my accomplishments and gave them greater meaning.

He’s kept me grounded, he’s a sounding board for my errant language thoughts, and we’d make a great Only Connect team if the references weren’t so exceedingly British.

He must be a lexicographer, because he defined 2015 for me. Now that’s a pickup line.


For Steven Universe, Steven Tan, and the hope and good times they represent, my personal word for 2015 is #StevenbombHere’s to 2016.

Custom-Made Tri-Blends

New words come into English in many ways (borrowing, backformation, verbing nouns, acronyms, etc), but the most visible word formations in Modern English tend to be blends. Blends (or portmanteaus) are created when at least two words are shoved together physically and phonetically to form a new word. Smog, frenemy, bloggorhea, hacktivist, cronut, phablet, sext, guyliner; they stick out as neologisms, and being visible means they endure a lot of public scrutiny.

Three- to five-part blends are significantly less productive, but there are enough of them to discuss, semi-academically. These are the most common ones: turducken, Nabisco, Tribeca, Benelux, CONMEBOL, and Croc-gu-phant.


Since reading Gretchen McCulloch’s practical explanation of shipping name blends on The Toast, looking through The Portmanteau Dictionary (Thurner, 1950), and finding Natalia Beliaeva’s 2014 thesis on English blends, I’ve been gathering multi-part blends in a Wordnik list. Here’s what I’ve learned:


Places: Benelux, BoCoCa, Chindonesia, Colocaliexas, Dalworthington Gardens, Delmarva, Dowisetrepla, Jabotabek, Lamorinda, Michillinda, Morindette, NoLIta, Nylonkong, SoDoSoPa, Texarkana, Tribeca
Organizations: CONMEBOL, Dasariski, Filoli, Nabisco, Ohaton
Events: Biz Cas Fri, blizzapocalypsegeddon, Christmahannakwanzadan, NaNoGenMo, NaNoWriMo, Thankshallowistmas
Common Nouns and Adjectives: afflufemza, ampersand, basticherbator, caublasian, compushency, herohotic, MoSoSo, romzomcom, SoLoMo
Foods: ortanique, peacotum, turducken
Products: Optacon, sudoopoo
Shipping names for OT3s and broT3s [sampling from Tumblr and fanlore.org]: Dalarenzo, Emarianna, Hollenstein, Johnlolly, Jollock, Jollylock, Klarenzo, Klefaroline, LaHollstein, LeeSeungHyun, Lunar Harmony, Major Ravioli, McHalenski, McTatenski, Pearlapidot, Sakata, Siremulus, Snarco, Spannaria, Spemaria, Sterydia, TaeGiKook, TaeKookMin, ToBaeDae, YoonMinSeok, YoonSeokNam, Zarriam, Zouiall, Zourry, etc.


In her conclusions, Beliaeva makes a smart distinction between clipping compounds and blends, determining that there are different motivations and methods that lead to their shortening and grouping in certain ways.

For her, clipping compounds come from existing phrases such as “National Biscuit Company” and “optical to tactile converter” which are then reduced down to their initial sounds to create Nabisco and Optacon, respectively. Other clipping compounds include NaNoWriMo, Biz Cas Fri, ampersand, Filoli, SoLoMo, romzomcom, sudoopoo, Tribeca, and Dowistrepla. There are two-part clipping compounds too, including SoMaretcon, pro-am, sci-fi, sitcomPokémon, and MoCap. In clipping compounds, the words are represented by their first segments (similar to acronyms, but slightly longer).

Blends, on the other hand, do not come from pre-existing phrases. Their concepts are brought together and shortened into one word simultaneously. All of the examples from the first paragraph are blends of this kind. These seem more productive than clipping, and usually include the first part of one word, and the last part of the other, resulting in a somewhat natural-sounding word.


McCulloch lists a number of factors that go into which names go first and what portions of words are included in blends: overlap, stress match, onset conservation (words starting with more consonants go first), orthographic transparency, and lexical neighborhood evaluation.

When three words are involved, the result can get unwieldy pretty quickly, so there also may be a bias towards preserving the minimum of each word, like the “Z” in Zourry, Zarriam, and Zouiall standing in for One Direction member Zayn, with parts from Louie, Harry, Liam and Niall filling in the rest. (There are many 1D shipping names.)

On the other hand, a number of these creations are intentionally comedic (biz cas Fri, blizzapocalypsegeddon, Christmahannakwanzadan, Dowisetrepla), so their length is a feature, not a bug.


Beliaeva makes a distinction between whole words and partial words, but I won’t here. For me, sometimes “first” and “last” also means the entire word is represented as in John in Johnlolly and Orinda in Lamorinda. Here’s how the multi-part blends break down:

First-first-first (but not clipping): Benelux, BoCoCa, Delmarva, Jabodetabek, Ohaton, Sakata

First-first-lastblizzapocalypsegeddon, caublasian, Chindonesia, Christmahannakwanzadan, Colocaliexas, compushency, Dalarenzo, herohotic, LaHollstein, Lamorinda, Lunar Harmony, Major Ravioli, McHalenski, McTatenski, Michillinda, Morindette, Nylonkong, ortanique, Pearlapidot, Siremulus, Spannaria, Spemaria, Texarkana, Thankshallowistmas, turducken

First-middle-last: Croc-gu-phant, Dasaraski, Emarianna, Jollock, Klarenzo, Klefaroline, Por-gua-can, Snarco, Sterydia, Zourry, Zouiall, Zarriam

First-last-last: basticherbator, Dalworthington Gardens, Hollenstein, Johnlolly, Jollylock, peacotum, TaeGiKook


There is an area near Berkeley, CA known as either Lamorinda (from Lafayette, Moraga and Orinda) or Morindette (from Moraga, Orinda, and Lafayette), which takes into account “lexical neighborhood evaluation” and sounds like “more in debt.”

Johnlolly, Jollock or Jollylock? In two-person pairings, Sherlock and Molly are Sherlolly, while John and Sherlock are Johnlock. Joining the three together, the variants branch off from those existing pairings, with Jollock reducing Molly further to sound like “jaw lock.”

Carmilla shippers can choose between Hollenstein and LaHollstein, Hollis-Lawrence-Karnstein, or Lawrence-Hollis-Karnstein. Again, pre-existing two-person names like Hollence and Hollstein affect these expansions.


Beliaeva proves clipping compounds and blends are similar but different enough to be separated if need be. Blends generally follow the guidelines outlined by McCulloch, but since each one is created independently, variants are common.

Three-part blends are generally unproductive in English, but internet fandoms have found a use for them in shipping. No evidence currently supports the idea that 3-part shipping blends have increased 3-part blends outside of fandoms, but the internet is large, so it’s possible.


There are too many shipping names to catalog them all, but if you find other multi-part blends, please let me know here or on Twitter.

License Plate Game: #_B_R_T_

This is a way to pass the time in traffic or walking through parking lots.

The license plate game is played by choosing 3 random letters (conveniently generated by most US license plates), and then naming as many words and phrases that can be made out of those letters in that order, consecutively or nonconsecutively. It may help to think of the letters with a space before and after each of them ( _B_R_T_) to visualize your options. Break them up into separate words or squish them together, do what you like as long as they stay in that order.

If you get stuck, you can ‘cheat’ by using wildcards on OneLook.com (e.g., *b*r*t*). Warning: those results are often very NSFW. When you play, you’ll likely personalize the length and goal of the game. Shortest word, longest word, name of a person or place, idiom, best invented compound, your victory conditions are your own.

If you come up with some particularly good ones, leave a comment or tweet them using #_B_R_T_ in the next week, and they’ll be added to the master list here. No points, no prizes, just a warm-up exercise for your brain before games of Scrabble, crossword puzzles, anagrams, and any other word-based fun you plan on having today. Follow @E_Briannica for future prompts.


License Plate Game: #_V_G_N_

The license plate game is played by choosing 3 random letters (conveniently generated by most US license plates), and then naming as many words and phrases that can be made out of those letters in that order, consecutively or nonconsecutively. This is a way to pass the time in traffic or walking through parking lots. It may help to think of the letters with a space before and after each of them ( _V_G_N_) to visualize your options. Break them up into separate words or squish them together, do what you like as long as they stay in that order.

If you get stuck, you can ‘cheat’ by using wildcards on OneLook.com (e.g., *v*g*n*). Warning: those results are often very NSFW. When you play, you’ll likely personalize the length and goal of the game. Shortest word, longest word, name of a person or place, idiom, best invented compound, your victory conditions are your own.

If you come up with some particularly good ones, leave a comment or tweet them using #_V_G_N_ in the next week, and they’ll be added to the master list here. No points, no prizes, just a warm-up exercise for your brain before games of Scrabble, crossword puzzles, anagrams, and any other word-based fun you plan on having today. There will be a new License Plate Game next week on Wednesday. Follow @E_Briannica for  future prompts.


Wordnik. Adoption. Agency.

Be an alphabetic ally!

Contribute to the Wordnik Kickstarter right now through October 16th.


In 2007, lexicographer Erin McKean gave a TED talk that addressed two big problems dictionaries faced at the time. The first was the uninspired transfer of paper dictionaries onto websites without modifying the format to integrate the features and connections possible in its new digital surroundings. The second was the long-term issue of undictionaried words, which causes wide-spread confusion about wordhood and legitimacy. What does it mean if a word does not appear in a dictionary? Is it not good enough, is it too new, or is there just no space for it in the physical book?

Fortunately for us, Erin has been working to solve both of these issues through Wordnik, an online dictionary which includes entries for ALL THE WORDS of English.

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 12.08.58 AM

Every word and phrase on Wordnik has its own page, populated with definitions, examples, related words, pictures, pronunciations, and community discussions. Even if Wordnik has not found a traditional dictionary definition for a word, it still gets a page, and any user may add comments, tags, or create a list and add that word to it, giving it context and connecting it to the greater web of English.

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 12.06.49 AM


Wordnik is a non-profit, and receives donations through the adoption of words.

In January, I adopted the word quiddity. For adopting quiddity, I received stickers, a certificate, and my name on the Wordnik quiddity page for a year.

I chose quiddity because it sounds fancy, and is a fancy philosophical concept, but also translates as whatness, which belongs in an existential reboot of “Who’s on First.”

I love many words, and next year I may adopt inexpressibles, breadth or companion, but I’d be right chuffed if someone else adopted them first. There are millions of adoptable words, and I have a crush on most of them.

You can adopt any word on Wordnik through the Kickstarter for just $25. People tend to choose established words with well-populated pages, like emoji and cat, but you can adopt elaborate phrases and neologisms just the same.


In the sentence “The monster destroyed the city”, the monster is the agent, and the city is the patient. The monster acts out the action of the verb, while the city has the action of the verb happen to it.

Many people have cast themselves as patients of English, walking cautiously around the language, trying not to wake it. They’re afraid they’ll make mistakes and be punished by an omniscient judge. And while it’s true that people make judgments based on your written and spoken words, you haven’t been sentenced to a life in word prison unless you’ve done it to yourself.

English is a living language. It is dynamic. By using it every day, you are shaping what it is, and what it will become. If you love a word, use it. That’s what makes words real in English.

Putting all of the words of English in the same place, under the same banner, in the same soup, will be, and already is, a very powerful thing. By including ALL THE WORDS, Wordnik is removing the barriers between SAT vocabulary, technical jargon, and regional slang. On Wordnik, step up to the plate stands on equal ground with prestidigitation, bunny hugyonic, hexamethylenediamine, Gordie Howe hat trick, and a million others.

When you encounter a new word in the wild, it could come from anywhere. With Wordnik, you only need to look in one place to find out its secrets and use them to your advantage.

Don’t let language just happen to you. Be an agent of language. Donate to Wordnik right now and claim a little corner of English for yourself.

(And while you’re at it, support the GoFundMe campaign for the Dictionary of American Regional English).

What Are Cutthroat Compounds?

Cutthroats are compounds that name people and things by describing what they do. Cutthroats are made from a transitive verb and a noun, where the noun is the direct object of the verb.

Cutthroats are found in many languages, but my research focuses on the inspired and vulgar creations found in English. Cutthroat productivity is very limited in English, and yet I have collected over 1100 of them in the last 4 years, far beyond previous estimates. You may be familiar with the following cutthroats:ModernCutthroats

For a lively 5 minute primer on compounds and cutthroats, watch my 2013 Ignite talk.

For a brief academic summary of cutthroats, read my 2015 DSNA/SHEL abstract.

For more visuals, look through the slides for 3 talks I’ve given about cutthroats:

For an overwhelming list of all cutthroat candidates catalogued thus far (there are more), check out these 990 cutthroats.

For more perspective on the topic, read the articles in the 2015 Cutthroat World Tour, or seek out the research of linguists like Volker Gast and Benedicte Nielsen Whitehead.

These compounds have been called many names in the past, but it appears that I’m the first to call them cutthroats. You may be more familiar with tosspot, turncoatscarecrow, wrap-rascal, Shakespeare, or terpsimbrotos. I use the term cutthroats to unify the bunch because cutthroat is the most representative example of the pattern. It is a calque from French coupe-gorge, and many early English cutthroat compounds were French loanwords, which were then translated and played with, creating variations and semantic clumps. Those loans influenced the topics covered by this pattern in the following centuries. I am aware that introducing a new term does not eliminate the problem of multiple terms.

990 Cutthroats

This is an update of the list of 892 Cutthroats posted a month ago. It seems the cutthroats multiplied while I was away in Vancouver.

My deep appreciation to everyone who suggests potential resources and words to me. Each little compound ties into the larger web and illuminates a corner of this pattern. Thank you. I literally can’t do this without you.

As before, there is much research to be done, and it is likely that a number of the attached cutthroats will not stand up to scrutiny. For now, I would rather include non-cutthroats than dismiss them during this wide sweep and regret it later. Once the pace of cutthroat collection slows, I will provide more details about the words−definitions, earliest dates, earliest sources, arguments for and against inclusion.

If you know a cutthroat that does not appear on the list, please let me know in the comments, or contact me on Twitter.

Some cutthroats use and describe vulgarity, so please consider your surroundings before taking a look at the list.

The list is divided into 22 columns of 45 words: 990 Cutthroats

Amuse through Break
Break through Catch
Catch through Cling
Clip through Ding
Ding through Fill
Fill through Gripe
Gripp through Kick
Kick through Lack
Lack through Move
Make through Mumble
Nip through Pinch
Pinch through Quake
Quake through Scald
Scald through Shack
Shack through Slap
Slide through Spill
Spill through Steal
Steal through Stroke
Suck through Tear
Tear through Trouble
Trouble through Wait
Wake through Xpel