Putting In A Good Word: rating words’ chances for success

I’ve got an article at Forbes this week, in which I identify some new words and gauge their chance of success. It’s part of a larger package of articles about neologisms, with articles from Jon McWhorter, Ben Zimmer, Mark Peters, and others.

New words are like grains of sand on a beach. They appear in uncountable numbers, last for just a brief time and soon wash away. But some–usually the utilitarian, the memorable and the simple–come into common use.

Grant Barrett, a dictionary editor and the co-host of public radio program “A Way with Words,” rates the chances of a few recently coined words below.

AFPAK, Af-Pak. This two-year-old blend of Afghanistan and Pakistan is used to refer to both countries. It’s convenient to use when situations straddle both country’s borders, or affect the region as a whole. It’s also easy to say, easy to spell and used by journalists and diplomats, so there’s a high alert chance of the word’s continued success.

Apatown. This is a Hollywood nickname for filmmaker Judd Apatow’s pals and regular working partners, including Paul Rudd, Jason Segel and Seth Rogen. It’s cutesy and already has the stink of a late night “where are they now?” retrospective. Chances of success? Bomb. What can rescue it? If Apatow puts out two great movies a year for the rest of his life.

fang-banging. Sex with a vampire. Lithe, luscious necks always seem to attract the peepers of readers and theater-goers alike, so we rate this one as potentially eternal.

frugalista. A woman committed to staying fashionable even though her means have become limited. As long as there is a recession, there will be somebody knocking ’em dead by wearing last decade’s skirt with a different belt and her sister’s shoes. Along with its synonym, recessionista, a thigh-high chance of success.

gay-marry. To marry someone of the same sex. With recent gay-marriage approvals across the country, this verb is poised to be greeted with toasts celebrating its noteworthy union with a dictionary in a few years.

Netflix divorce. When a couple decides that their tastes are too different to share a single Netflix account, they get two instead. While this term is at least two years old, recent use has brought it new life. Even odds on this one: It could be Gigli or Star Wars. We’ll know for sure when brick-and-mortar video stores go the way of hand-cranked-phone factories.

reset button. This political argot du jour means starting over, a redo a second chance. As the metaphorical use of the term is at least seven years old, it’s a cinch to say that its continued chance of success is very bright, but given its overuse, we also say don’t push it.

retronovation. Returning to a former way of producing a product–such as making soft drinks with cane sugar instead of corn syrup and shipping them in glass bottles–in order to attract nostalgic customers. This term, coined in March by blogger Tim Carmody of Snarkmarket, has been used so rarely that we’re calling its chances warm backwash.

schluff. Where bicycle-riding is forbidden or unwelcome, to schluff is to temporarily dismount and kind of half-straddle, half-push the bike. Though just a few months old, its odds of long-term success are failure to stop.

spendulus. A jokey name for the Obama administration’s economic stimulus package, a blend of the words “spend” and “stimulus.” Much-loved by conservatives who continue to pepper their word salads with it. We’ll call it successful with a chance of being tired.

Posted April 27, 2009

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