Words That Should Exist

Let this be a discussion of:
(1) concepts or physical things for which there really, really ought to be words, (2) triumphantly identifying elusive words for such concepts and things or (3) coinages that are not yet legitimate but that ought to be so because of their aptness, utility and elegance. Here is my first contribution to get you started:

My wife and I returned home from a round of errands with a new coffeemaker that was selected after much gnashing of teeth about its features and whether suitably presentable. Our old coffeemaker had died due to years of sedimentary deposits and we were in crisis mode to effect a replacement. I unpacked the damn thing, dropping the ‘decanter’ in the process – only through heroic effort was I able to break its fall with my extended foot, nearly pulling a hamstring in the process — and set it down, side-by-side, with its predecessor. I pronounced it ok “aesthetics wise.” Hmm…aesthetics wise. This clumsy phrase evoked peals of laughter from my wife (and me too) and instantly triggered musings as to whether there was a word for such a self-canceling phrase. To be clear, we are talking about a word or phrase that has properties that contradict its meaning. Now, of course, this would not be an oxymoron since it is not the coffeemaker but rather the phrase that lacks grace. It also smacks of onomatopoeia, though is really its opposite, since the phrase has a quality directly at odds with its subject matter. So, there it is. Any suggestions?


2 Responses to “Words That Should Exist”

  1. 1 Ulysses
    April 10, 2010 at 5:26 am

    Isn’t one definition of an oxymoron a self-cancelling phrase? This page seems to think so:


  2. 2 Harry Kanigel
    April 10, 2010 at 6:06 am

    An oxymoron is a self-canceling phrase in a particular sense that focuses on the meaning of words that appear to be inherently contradictory: the meanings of, let’s say, the adjective in the phrase is inconsistent with the meaning of the noun. A fabled jocular example is “military intelligence.” A more serious example might be “gentle stormtrooper.” But the elusive concept explored in the original post concerns the meaning as applied to the phrase itself. For example, “monosyllabic linguistic formulation” is not, itself, monosyllabic though there is nothing inherently contradictory about the phrase.

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October 2009

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