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Lexical Leavings

by Tom Gally



A recent story in the New Yorker, "Jon" by George Saunders, is scattered with words that appear in no dictionary. For example:
And then Baby Amber toddled by, making this funny noise in her throat of not being very happy, and upon reaching the Snack Cart she like seized up and tumped over, giving off this sort of shriek.
This "tumped" seems to be an amalgam of "tipped" and "bumped" (or maybe "dumped").

The author uses "sloppenly"--presumably "slovenly" plus "sloppily"--twice:
...take a look in our Group Closet, which is packed with gratis designerwear such as Baby Gap and even Baby Ann Taylor, whereas what kind of beautiful life are you proposing with a Fridge that is empty both inside and on top, and the three of us going around all sloppenly, because I don't know about you but my skill set is pretty limited in terms of what do I know how to do...

And the parts I could read were bumming me out even worse, such as she had wrote all sloppenly, Jon a abbot is a cove, a glen...
"Scrinkled" no doubt comes from "scrunched" and "wrinkled":
...then Carolyn said, I didn't mean that thing about the rabbit, and I scrinkled up my nose rabbitlike to make her laugh.
"Perceive" plus "see" makes "persee":
Between flinches and blinks on End I could dimly persee her sitting cross-legged near me, not flinching, not blinking, just looking pretty in the moonlight with a look on her face of deep concern for me.
Such words, like onomatopoetic neologisms, are immediately understandable to native speakers, but they are likely to be opaque to all but the most fluent nonnatives. There's little that dictionaries can do to help; such new yet familiar words are likely to remain forever unlookupable.
(April 19, 2003)