Inexpressibles is another word for underpants. You may be more familiar with the term unmentionables. This is the same idea, but somehow even more likely to make you require a fainting couch. This word makes me fan myself and consider wearing corsets.
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.”
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 meansthe 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 #Stevenbomb. Here’s to 2016.
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:
THE TOPICS COVERED
Places: Benelux, BoCoCa, Chindonesia, Colocaliexas, Dalworthington Gardens, Delmarva, Dowisetrepla, Jabotabek, Lamorinda, Michillinda, Morindette, NoLIta, Nylonkong, SoDoSoPa, Texarkana, Tribeca
Organizations: CONMEBOL, Dasariski, Filoli, Nabisco, Morzouksnick, 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.
BLENDING VS CLIPPING
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 SoMa, retcon, pro-am, sci-fi, sitcom, Pokémon, 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.
WILL IT BLEND?
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.
BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS
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-last: blizzapocalypsegeddon, 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, Morzouksnick, 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.
Encyclopedia Briannica: Speak Volumes
This site accompanies Encyclopedia Briannica, a web series in development that aims to expand and shift the public language conversation away from apostrophe fights and dictionary gatekeeping to focus on everyday speech acts you already perform and understand but never had a name for.
Talking is like walking, and you already speak in a way that gets you from here to there. You can strut or sprint, skip or stomp. Love your English. Play with your damn language.
Comments are encouraged. Publishing a post is just the beginning of our conversation. However, irrelevant and malicious comments are not tolerated, and will be deleted without notice.
This project is not associated with Encyclopedia Britannica but it could be.
Encyclopedia Briannica: Sentences Without Judgment