Linguist, lexicographer, radio host, public speaker

Washington Post word contest: country’s largest thief-friendly lexicon

Here’s something that peeves me like a six-wheeled peeling-and-peeving machine: newspapers reprinting email forwards without properly sourcing, dating, or citing them. It’s usually smaller newspapers that have no budgets and few staff, but still. How hard is it to properly find out where a chunk of text came from—a chunk of text that splatted in your inbox from the ether? Did not little green Martians bestow upon us Google for this very purpose?

A favorite to pass around in email and reprint in crappy newspapers everywhere are words taken from the Washington Post‘s Style Invitational in which readers invent new jokey words.

In some cases, the words are attributed to the Post, in some cases not. In this case, they claim “Here are this year’s winners.” Well, no. They weren’t the winners this year, nor when the list first appeared on Usenet in 2003, when they also were labeled “this year’s winners.” No, some of those words—like intaxication and reintarnation, appeared in the Washington Post in 1998. Others, like cashtration and beelzebug, seem to not be from the Washington Post at all. Sometime during their eight-year trip through the Internet, they were yanked from another list that has itself been travelling around since 1995, when it appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, an Australian newspaper. God and little green Martians only know where that list originated.

It’d all be different if they were, in fact, useful words, but they’re stunt words. They’re almost never used outside of these forwarded lists. They’re like pandas: good for a quick look, maybe an involuntary grin, and then you’re off to the monkey cages to speculate whether 43 bonobos could kill a silverback. Not useful.

author avatar
Grant Barrett