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Style Conversational Week 1422: Udon want to miss these neologisms

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 2/4/2021 Pat Myers
a bowl of pasta: Udon, the thick wheat noodles often used in Japanese soups, inspired a number of Style Invitational Losers in the UNDO neologism contest. Udon, the thick wheat noodles often used in Japanese soups, inspired a number of Style Invitational Losers in the UNDO neologism contest.

Wow, when Jeff Contompasis suggested that this year’s Tour de Fours letter block be “UNDO,” I knew it was a timely idea, but I didn’t realize how swiftly it would happen:

Joe Biden hardly had time to take off his inaugural parade coat before whipping out his not-a-Sharpie and signing executive order after executive order reversing his predecessor’s own decrees on immigration, gay rights, climate change, science restriction, educational indoctrination, and more more more, day after day: A giant CTRL-Z to 2016. (Will the next president do a giant CTRL-Y?)

Oh, and three of those letters in UNDO are DON.

“Don” as in Trump made it into a couple of the 46 neologisms — coined words and phrases — in the results of Week 1418, which required UNDO, or any of its permutations, to appear with no other letters in between (though punctuation and spaces were okay): Don U Can’t Be Serious” as a “Famous Last Texts” collection, by Ira Allen, and Jesse Frankovich’s Donuments,” the statues that he thinks should replace the Confederate ones.

The residue of the former president’s behavior still permeates the Invite, and is likely to do so to some degree for at least a while, as the Loserly artillery begins to turn toward successor targets. (You should see their arsenal of Jewish Space Lasers.) Lee Graham’s runner-up of “Undo pressure,” Kevin Dopart’s “nincompounded” (what Giuliani’s “trial by combat” exhortations did to the situation on Jan. 6) and Steve Smith’s “trolling in dough” continue the tradition of the past, what, half-decade (sigh).

But notice how many of the inking neologisms today have nothing to do with Washington or the GOP or the Deposed Emperor. Instead we have lots of zingy, relevant, usable additions to the Loser Lexicon that refer to Life in General.

And they’re topped this week by “ickspounded,” a verb form of “TMI” by Terri Berg Smith, complete with the example of being treated to a graphic recounting of barfing the whole bag of multicolored Skittles. It’s Terri’s first Clowning Achievement trophy — in fact, her first Style Invitational win — though she’d already won three runners-up in just 13 blots of ink, most of them recently.

I only noticed this just now, but all three runners-up contain UNDO in that very order: It’s the concept of Dave Prevar’s definition of “undoh” — to realize you’re right after all — that supplies the humor; you don’t need further description or an example. I’m picturing Homer Simpson undohing. Dave doesn’t Invite as much as he used to (though he’s been a continual donor of wacky second prizes, like today’s Amazing Silly Straw), so it’s nice to see him back on the road to the Hall of Fame with Inks 371 and 372 this week. Jesse Frankovich cites Mike Pence as someone who’d trigger undorphins, but it’s not political humor; that’s left to Lee Graham’s undo pressure as the sole current-events rep in this week’s Losers’ Circle.

A number of the inking neologisms were offered up by several people: fonduel was submitted by eight Losers. I generally chose my favorite description among them — in this case, Mark Raffman’s and Beverley Sharp’s similarly posed idea of fighting over that last piece of bread in the cheese goo. (Most of the others imagined people swordfighting with those skinny forks.)

Here’s a neologism rule of thumb: Even though neologisms are, by definition, new words, you’re relying on the readers to apply their intuitive understanding of the English language, how they realize that a word is a noun or a word or an adjective. Part of that is a suffix: if the word has a noun ending, such as “-tion” or “-ment,” the definition should refer to a noun. (You can avoid an awkward definition by instead using a zingy example of its use.)

Many neologisms are portmanteaux, terms that combine two existing words. And in general, the definition should match the part of speech of the second word rather than the first, because that’s how multisyllabic nouns tend to be constructed: first part of the word describes the second part. Here are two entries — playing identically on “correspondence” — that made me think of this principle:

A. Correspondunce: Someone who starts a letter with “To Who It May Concern.” (Jesse Frankovich) The second part, “dunce,” is a person. What kind of dunce? A correspondunce.

Contrast this with another funny idea but one that doesn’t work for me as well:

B. Correspondunce: Mail that contains a Style Invitational trophy. It’s off because the noun part of the word, at the end, doesn’t match the noun part of the definition. Mail/ dunce.

There’s at least one entry this week that violates this principle: condumb, while playing off a noun, is changed into adjective form, but still has a definition in noun form: “Discount prophylactic with a hardly noticeable tear.” I think it would have been better as an adjective (a condumb person) or even a verb (as in dumb down) but still laughed at Stephen Dudzik’s definition, and didn’t want to weigh it down with extra words.

By the way: If your inking entry was tweaked a bit, or more than a bit, this week, it wasn’t alone. Some weeks, I hardly change a comma among the entries; other times I feel the need to tinker more with the description of a great-idea neologism. I wish I had the time (and patience) for back-and-forth workshopping, as limerick writers at OEDILF.com enjoy with their submissions, but there are just too many entries and too few Empresses.

What Doug Dug: Ace Copy Editor Doug Norwood agreed with my choice of this week’s Loser Circle of entries — especially Terri Berg Smith’s winning “ickspounded” — and also singled out Hannah Seidel’s “brofound”; Jesse Frankovich’s “correspondunce"; First Offender Adie Peña’s “houndini”; and Jeff Shirley’s “undoo” — as in to excise all the poop references from the week of Invite entries, leaving the Empress a chihuahua-doot-size pile to judge. Adie, by the way, introduced himself to the Loser Community recently when he joined the Style Invitational Devotees Facebook group. I’m pretty sure he’s the charter member of the Philippine Loser Bureau. The way the mail’s going, I’m sure he’ll be getting his Fir Stink for his first ink before the end of the year.

Putting it together: This week’s contest

As I mentioned in the intro to Week 1422, this week’s contest is Classic Invite: combine two elements, puns on names, funny combinations of famous people. So it surprised me that the suggestion, complete with examples, came not from one of the Usual Suspects, but from someone whose Invite oeuvre had consisted of one obit poem two years ago:

But Daniel Fleisher seems right on the mark here, and I hope that the 71-year-old retired plumber and inveterate punster from Baltimore (“I have an archive: 50 pages of original puns”) has more material for this contest, as an entrant, and for future Invites as well.

Note that one of the examples is in sentence form and the other in “breeding” format; I’ll decide what to use (maybe both) when I see the entries, so don’t sweat it. If writing it out makes it funnier, write it out.

Deadline is Feb. 15, which is Presidents’ Day. Does it really matter anymore?

What is Episode 10 of 'You’re Invited’?

Be sure to catch the latest episode of In You’re Invited, Mike Gips’s half-hour podcast about all things Invite. This time Mike treats Invite Rookie Phenom Sarah Walsh, who’s been on both “Jeopardy!” and “The Chase,” to a surprise Invite Jeop game, complete with Invite trivia. Sarah’s a trouper — it’s a riot. She also gives a little dish on what it was like to be on “The Chase” last month, and to face down that little bowtied supertrivialist Brad Rutter. You can search for You’re Invited at Apple Podcasts, Spotify or some other apps, or just go to bit.ly/invite-podcast, an especially handy way to listen at your computer.

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