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April 19, 2007, 13:23wordcrafter
For our next theme we’ll look at some coined words, most them familiar. In one sense, every word was “coined” by the first person to us it, but some coinages have very interesting histories.
Recall that last week’s word Listerine
was originally a surgical antiseptic, later a mouthwash. The change came from a hugely-successful advertising campaign, one which illustrates the power of the well-chosen word, today’s coinage. halitosis
- bad breath [from Latin halitus
breath + Greek-based suffix -osis
Listerine began to advertise itself as a cure for “halitosis” in 1921, and kicked the campaign into high gear two years later – perhaps because a competitor was also calling itself a “halitosis” cure. By 1924 the word was on everyone's lips, halitosis-jokes abounded, and one wag noted, "The feller that thought up halitosis as a catchword for bad breath is now riding around in a pink limousine." Says one commentator, “Listerine did not make mouthwash as much as it made halitosis." (James Twitchell, Twenty Ads that Shook the World
Many sources say that the ad-men coined “halitosis”, but in fact it was obscure medical lingo (coined 1874,) which they stumbled upon and eagerly seized. They had already rejected marketing Listerine as a bad breath remedy (they didn’t even know it could be so used), because "bad breath" was an indecent phrase. But when they learned the word "halitosis" they saw that it would be a fine euphemism.
See our board for the full story their deliberation, and for some of their early advertising copy.
April 19, 2007, 13:26wordcrafter
The brainstorming over the ad campaign: First-person account by Gerard Lambert, as quoted in Ron Klein and Ray Giles, Turn Your Imagination Into MoneyI took them into my brother Marion's office with him and closed the door and told them that we were going to come out of the room with an idea for Listerine. We debated all the possibilities and suddenly dear old Marion suggested "bad breath." We all jumped on him for such an indecent thought. Once more he brought it up and again it was outlawed by us. The third time I shouted over the low partition to Mr. Deacon and asked him to come in. . . .When he came in I asked him if Listerine was any good for bad breath. He said, "Wait a moment," and produced a tremendous scrapbook from medical journals and opened it on his lap. I stood looking over his shoulder as he read one headline, saying that Listerine was good for halitosis. I stopped him and said, "What is that?" "Why Gerald," he said, "that is the medical term for unpleasant breath." I said, "Wait a minute, say that again." Feasley spoke up and said, "There is something we can hang our hat on." We kicked the old gentleman out of the room totally unaware of what had happened and the four of us immediately began to spark on the idea.
April 19, 2007, 13:29wordcrafter
Here is some of the early advertising copy:
- He turned his face away
- Are they saying it behind your back?
- The mirror can't tell you.
- Shall I discharge him for it?
- Did he have a right to suspect her? … his wife … wouldn't even let him kiss her.
- The dance she sat out ... And even your closest friends won't tell you.
- She pitied the man. Yet … she couldn't bring herself to be frank and tell him honestly why she didn't welcome his attentions
- Often a bridesmaid but never a bride. That morning she had received still another wedding announcement. ... her birthdays crept gradually toward that tragic thirty mark …
- Why couldn't he make the grade into a bigger business success … those who did know the reason didn't have the heart to tell him.
- Even his mother-in-law wouldn't tell him.
- Yet between them there was an invisible barrier that made her hold back: Something she couldn't bring herself to talk about.
April 19, 2007, 19:40Kalleh
because "bad breath" was an indecent phrase.
Interesting when you think of some of the conditions they talk about now on our ads. How times change!
April 20, 2007, 05:05bethree5
Wouldn't they be shocked by the unpleasant side effects listed in the disclaimers at the close of ads for prescription meds!
April 20, 2007, 07:24wordcrafter
- a short promotional description of a book, film, or other product
I never saw a purple cow
I never hope to see one
But I can tell you anyhow
I'd rather see than be one.
Gelett Burgess (1866-1951), author of these immortal lines, also liked to invent new words. In 1907 he created Miss Belinda Blurb
to mock the customary rave reviews printed on books' dust jackets, explaining that he "had her pictured blurbing a blurb to end all blurbs, I fondly hoped." (When asked, he defined blurb
as "self praise and making a noise like a publisher".)
His publisher reported, some decades later, how that word was sprung upon the world at large:
It is the custom of publishers to present copies of a conspicuous current book to booksellers attending the annual dinner of their trade association, and as this little book was in its heyday when the meeting took place I gave it to 500 guests. These copies were differentiated from the regular edition by the addition of a comic bookplate drawn by the author and by a special jacket which he devised. It was the common practice to print the picture of a damsel--languishing, heroic, or coquettish--on the jacket of every novel, so Burgess lifted from a Lydia Pinkham or tooth-powder advertisement the portrait of a sickly sweet young woman, painted in some gleaming teeth, and otherwise enhanced her pulchritude, and placed her in the center of the jacket. His accompanying text was some nonsense about 'Miss Belinda Blurb,' and thus the term supplied a real need and became a fixture in our language.
Regrettably, I am unable to provide you a picture of the buxom Miss Belinda.
April 21, 2007, 14:03wordcrafter
H.L. Mencken explains how he came to coin today’s word.
Then [in 1940] I was inspired by a lady … designating her occupation as strip teasing, who requested “a new and more palatable word to describe this art.” As a help to her (or here public relations counsel)) I replied as follows: “It might be a good idea to relate strip teasing in some way or other to the associated zoological function of molting. Thus the word moltician comes to mind, but it must be rejected due to its likeness to mortician. A resort to the scientific name for molting, which is ecydsis, produces … ecydiast.”ecdysiast
– a stripper-tease artist; a stripper
coined by 1940
the process of shedding the old skin (in snakes, etc.)]
"Gypsy and Me" strips bare the life of what it meant to be the legendary ecdysiast's son …
– Jewish Exponent, Mar. 22, 2007
… new Alabama football coach Mike Price getting the ax for his misadventures with the Pensacola ecdysiast community.
– Salon, June 12, 2003
April 22, 2007, 14:51wordcrafter
– excellent; perfectly acceptable
He had a boundless passion for music and entertained many with his beautiful voice and perfectly cromulent sense of humor.
– Charlotte Observer, Apr. 10, 2006
Coined on TV in The Simpsons:
Jebediah: [on film] A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man.Two years ago
Edna Krabappel: Embiggens? I never heard that word before I moved to Springfield.
Ms. Hoover: I don't know why. It's a perfectly cromulent word.
[and later:] Skinner: Yes, he's embiggened that role with his cromulent performance.
this word had 40,000 google hits. Erin McKean of OED commented
(late 2005), "So of course, cromulent
hasn't really made dictionaries yet. It's kind of bubbling along at a low boil." Today it generates 192,000 google hits. I'd say it's become a cromulent
part of our vocabulary.
April 22, 2007, 18:36bethree5
Hoping some of you have some better sources than I. Here is all I could turn up in a search for the derivation of a term which has been ubiquitous at engineering firms, in government, and elsewhere for 30+ years: bean counter
. Originally a term for accountants, it refers in the narrow sense to those in the profession of minding the company's (or the client's) money, and has come to imply a person who focuses on practical detail to the exclusion of the bigger picture.
My question is 'why beans?' Found nothing definitive, but it would appear that 'beans' referred to money back in the hungry 1930's, along with 'dough', 'bread', and 'lettuce.'
April 22, 2007, 20:50Seanahan
I use this word every time someone says embiggens, which my generation actually use fairly often, due to our enjoyment of the Simpsons.
April 23, 2007, 06:45arnie
Evan Morris has an article on "Bean Counters" on his Word Detective
... the allusion is clearly to an accountant so dedicated to detail that he or she counts everything, down to the last small, but still important, bean.
Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
April 24, 2007, 06:41wordcrafter
Necessity can be the mother of linguistic invention. Two examples:1.
When two sisters raised dogs, and the animals presented them with the results of a romantic interlude between the two breeds, what would they call the pups? The sisters created an in-the-family term by blending the breed names. A rather ordinary family incident, but since the sisters are prominent ladies, the blended name has become known outside the family. Thus, Queen Elizabeth’s corgis and Princess Margaret’s dachshunds have given us as dorgies
T. H. Huxley explained how he came to coin the term agnostic
– one believes that nothing can be known concerning the existence of God.
When I … began to ask myself whether I was an atheist, a theist, or a pantheist …, I found that the more I learned and reflected, the less ready was the answer … The one thing in which most of these good people were agreed was the one thing in which I differed from them. They were quite sure that they had attained a certain "gnosis" -- had more or less successfully solved the problem of existence; while I was quite sure I had not, and had a pretty strong conviction that the problem was insoluble. … So I took thought, and invented what I conceived to be the appropriate title of "agnostic". It came into my head as suggestively antithetic to the "gnostic" of Church history, who professed to know so much about the very things of which I was ignorant; and I took the earliest opportunity of parading it at our Society, to show that I, too, had a tail, like the other foxes.
April 25, 2007, 07:02wordcrafter
Today’s word was coined in a 1923 contest sponsored by an ardent Prohibitionist, Mr. Delcevare King of Quincy, Massachusetts (Harvard 1895). He offered a $200 prize for a word to describe “a lawless drinker of illegally made or illegally obtained liquor”, and received over 25,000 words.
The authorities thought the word was a flash-in-the-pan. Within months the new-words editor Funk & Wagnalls (Dr. Frank H. Vizetelly) commented that the term, "widely publicized several months ago as the term applied to those who violate the prohibition laws, is fast fading." Moral: don’t trust the authorities! But the winning entry has changed its meaning.scofflaw
– a contemptuous violator of laws, esp.
of laws deemed silly or trivial
Tidbit: two entrants submitted the winning word, and the OED and many other sources identify them as Miss Kate L. Butler and “Henry Irving Dale.” But many contemporary accounts give the gentleman’s name as “Henry Irving Shaw
,” and that view was taken by as high an authority as Time Magazine (Jan. 16, 1956).