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Unused but Useful: Oxford English Dictionary's Reject List

Aug 6, 2010 – 4:14 PM
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Theunis Bates

Theunis Bates Contributor

LONDON (Aug. 6) -- Ever engaged a freegan in nonversation, or does the very idea make you want to precuperate? If you haven't a clue what we're talking about, don't worry, you're probably not xenolexic.

The bizarre terms used in those last two sentences are "non words": Words that have allegedly been submitted to the Oxford English Dictionary -- the gatekeepers of the English language -- but rejected on the grounds that too few people currently use them. Some of these non words are hyper-local slang, while others briefly spring in and out of existence when they're deployed to describe short-lived phenomena. A freegan, for example, is an eco-campaigner who hunts for goodies in other people's trash; a nonversation is a vapid, pointless chat; to "precuperate" means to get ready for an oncoming illness; and, perhaps most appropriately of all, a xenolexic is someone who suffers intense confusion when faced with new words.

Recently graduated graphic designer Luke Ngakane, 22 -- who this summer made forgotten phrases the focus of his final art project at Kingston University, London -- told AOL News that many more failed words are hidden away in a secret vault at Oxford. According to British daily The Telegraph, this word bank houses 50 large filing cabinets, each crammed with thousands of 6-by-4-inch cards detailing every declined entry. Some of these slips were scribbled before 1918 -- the year "Lord of the Rings" author J.R.R. Tolkien was hired as an OED sub-editor. (He'd go on to spend many hours puzzling over the etymology of "walrus" and the definition of "waggle.") New non-words are now stored on computers.

After hearing about the vault from another artist, Ngakane decided he'd try to save some of the lost phrases. He contacted Oxford University Press, OED's publishers, and asked if he could roam around among the archives. They confirmed the vault's existence but ignored his plea for access. Unwilling to abandon the project, he trawled the Internet, looking for amateur lexicographers who say their dictionary contenders had been denied by OED authorities.

Through his own research and logophile contacts, Ngakane quickly built up a pamphlet's worth of non words. He selected 39 that "had a lovely flow, or perfectly fit the thing they're describing, like polkadodge, which is the dance that happens when two people attempt to pass each other but end up moving in the same direction," and compiled them in a "Dictionary of Lost Words." Some 150 copies of this alternative dictionary were printed on an old-fashioned letterpress and handed out to writers, journalists and "others who could help get as many of these unique words back into circulation."

If he could put one word back into popular parlance, Ngakane says he'd pick furgle. "It means fumbling in your pocket or bag for keys or a coin that you can't quite get hold of, " he explains. "That's furgling."

Here's the complete collection of non words. Who knows, if you slip them into enough conversations, maybe one day they'll make it into the OED.

Accordionated: Being able to drive and refold a road map at the same time

Asphinxiation: Being sick to death of unanswerable puzzles or riddles

Blogish: A variety of English that uses a large number of initialisms, frequently used on blogs

Dringle: The watermark left on wood caused by a glass of liquid.

Dunandunate: The overuse of a word or phrase that has recently been added to your own vocabulary

Earworm: A catchy tune that frequently gets stuck in your head

Espacular: Something especially spectacular

Freegan: Someone who rejects consumerism, usually by eating discarded food

Fumb: Your large toe

Furgle: To feel in a pocket or bag for a small object such as a coin or key

Glocalization: Running a business according to both local and global considerations

Griefer: Someone who spends their online time harassing others

Headset jockey: A telephone call center worker

Lexpionage: The sleuthing of words and phrases

Locavor: A person who tries to eat only locally grown or produced food

Museum head: Feeling mentally exhausted and no longer able to take in information; usually following a trip to a museum

Nonversation: A worthless conversation, wherein nothing is explained or otherwise elaborated upon

Nudenda: An unhidden agenda

Onionate: To overwhelm with post-dining breath

Optotoxical: A look that could kill, normally from a parent or spouse

Parrotise: A haven for exotic birds especially green ones

Peppier: A waiter whose sole job is to offer diners ground pepper, usually from a large pepper mill

Precuperate: To prepare for the possibility of being ill

Pharming: The practice of creating a dummy website for phishing data

Polkadodge: The dance that occurs when two people attempt to pass each other but move in the same direction

Pregreening: To creep forward while waiting for a red traffic light to change

Quackmire: The muddy edges of a duck pond

Scrax: The waxy coating that is scratched off an instant lottery ticket

Smushables: Items that must be packed at the top of a bag to avoid being squashed

Spatulate: Removing cake mixture from the side of a bowl with a spatula

Sprog: To go faster than a jog but slower then a sprint

Sprummer: When summer and springtime can't decide which is to come first, usually hot one day then cold the next

Stealth-geek: Someone who hides their nerdy interests while maintaining a normal outward appearance

Vidiot: Someone who is inept at the act of programming video recording equipment

Whinese: A term for the language spoken by children on lengthy trips

Wibble: The trembling of the lower lip just shy of actually crying

Wurfing: The act of surfing the Internet while at work

Wikism: A piece of information that claims to be true but is wildly inaccurate

Xenolexica: A grave confusion when faced with unusual words
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