Thoughts About . . . Words We Don’t Have by Gene K. Garrison
Ideas stick in my mind forever. Eons ago, in high school, I wondered why we didn’t have certain words in the English vocabulary. For instance, what’s the part of the human body on the inner side of the elbow? Should we call it elbend, el-bend, or L-bend? The corresponding part of the leg needs a name too, so I coined legbend. It makes sense to me.
As you have undoubtedly heard, English is a rich language, but it has some omissions. What is the space between the nose and upper lip called? I’ve heard it referred to as the upper lip, but it’s not that. It’s above the upper lip. Let’s mull it over.
Mustache space? Half the population wouldn’t accept it. Overlip? That sounds like a condition.
Another bodily mystery area — that one between the eyelashes and eyebrows. Do you wince when someone says, “He cut his eye”? Thank God it wasn’t his eye. It was that place above the eye. Underbrow anyone?
Mentally locate the inner corner of the eye, next to the nose. What describes the pink fleshy triangle of tissue? Is it a foreign object port — FOP for short?
Think about a black eye — the kind you get as a result of a fight, or from running into a door in the dark. Unh-huh. Many a blue-eyed person has had a black eye, but it’s not the eye that is discolored or damaged. It’s the skin in an approximate semicircle under the eye. So what should a black eye be called? Eye-socket bruise? Two syllables longer, but certainly more specific.
The word bruise is a better description than black in regard to a near-eye injury. You must have watched a bruise go through its stages — from blue-black to green to chartreuse to brown to yellow. Maybe it’s not in that order, but black doesn’t do justice to the magnificent chameleon-like color changes.
Identity misnomers aren’t confined to body parts. Euphemisms come to mind in this what-should-we-call-it quandary. Powder room? Rest room? Little Boys’ Room? Little Girls’ Room? We all know what it is, and its use. Its purpose is not a place to powder anything, not to rest, not as a kids’ recreation area — not even a place to take a bath. Why not call it what it is: a Toilet Room or Toiletry — or is that another word entirely?
How about those cutesy names on the doors that mean Men and Women? Cowboys and Cowgirls? Dudes and Dudettes, Stallions and Fillies? Those words cannot be amusing to a foreigner, or anyone else, who can’t figure them out, especially if a visit to the facility is urgent.
Another bit of silliness I’ve never understood is the phrase slept with, meaning had sex with. It takes the innocence of nap-taking to a different plane altogether.
Breasts — one word used in this context makes me cringe: boobs. A boob is a dolt, a fool. Why do people call a part of the anatomy by such an inappropriate name? And why do they smile or giggle when they say it?
Let’s dump that one and proceed to technology. I appreciate the positivity that great minds dream up for new products. User-friendly has been around for years, and it’s still my favorite. Doesn’t it give you a warm glow to think that metal, chips, wires, screws and information-loaded computer hard-drives really like you? I want my technology user-friendly.
Descriptive products: Salad Shooter. You know what it does even before you’ve seen it. It shoots salad ingredients. Sounds like a fun gadget, even if you don’t have enough space for it on your countertop because of the food processor, blender, toaster and can opener. And you don’t have an appliance garage. Ah, there’s another one — appliance garage, or is it ApplianceGarage?
Never mind the slang words which come onto the scene, wear themselves out in a few years, and fade away as another teen generation redefines itself with its own vocabulary. The crude becomes commonplace and loses its ability to shock.
Language — it’s full of delights and discoveries, as well as the opposite. It continues to grow, sometimes positively and sometimes negatively.
Let’s take a giant step forward to fill in useful, specific words that we overlooked in the past.
Amin’t is one I conjured up when I was in high school, a word that has nagged me for decades. We use the contractions aren’t, doesn’t, won’t and can’t, but there’s no contraction for am I not. I’m right, amin’t?
It’s mine, mine, mine. I coined it.
What? You say I can keep it? Oh, no, I want to share it, share it, share it with you!
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