Words you must use

My co-worker and I are obsessed with unusual words, so when she came across 20 Awesomely Untranslatable Words From Around the World, we set about using them immediately.

How many times on the subway or sidewalk have you experienced that fleeting moment with someone but not known that it was mamihlapinatapei?

I loved learning the Inuit word “iktsuarpok,” which means to go outside to check if anyone is coming. The image of a lone figure in the snow checking the vast tundra for a visitor is an unforgettable one. But then, it kind of makes sense, because how does one knock on an igloo?

In hunting around the website, twitter-light descending, I came across another list, 20 Obsolete English Words that Should Make a Comeback, equally fabulous, and thought I’d better stop looking before I accumulate more words than I can carry.




Really, now. Who thought this movie was a good idea?

I will, however, give the director credit for commissioning not only a fictitious language but a fictitious language that is grammatically correct. Points for that.

My vote for Word of the Year

Every year, the New Oxford American Dictionary chooses a Word of the Year—a newly coined or ubiquitous word that reflects the spirit of the year or is used so much that it becomes uber-annoying. Well, that’s my take on it, anyway. Hypermiling is this year’s word, which describes drivers’ extreme efforts to conserve gasoline such as trailing a semi at high speeds or gasp, observing the speed limit. 

I was so convinced that this year’s word would be staycation, an inexpensive vacation spent at home with, I don’t know, a beach umbrella in the living room. The word was inescapable this summer as people compared their stupid staycations. The word, did, however, make the shortlist, so that’s something. But it’s still my word of the year.

Merriam-Webster chose bailout as its word of ’08, a word that was on the lips of every newscaster every. Other. Second. But it’s kind of anti-climactic and frankly, depressing. And while maverick was in the top 10, mavericky would have been a better choice.

Webster’s New World Dictionary went with overshare this year, which is apt given the proliferation of bloggers, and my experience with people who divulge too much. They’re everywhere, no?

An ’07 top vote getter was verbing Facebook, and ’06 saw truthiness all over the place. One that caught my eye this year though, was topless meeting, which does not mean what you think it means; apparently, it’s a meeting sans laptops, Blackberries, and cell phones. Huh. Sooo not as interesting as it might have been.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Whoa.

The French film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a killer. It’s based on a true story and is one of those films you know you should see because you’ll be better for it, but that you know will be two hours of hell. It’s told from the perspective of a man paralyzed by a stroke and trapped in a rare “locked-in” condition; he can see out of one eye and can hear, but communication is frustrating and limited. Yet, he manages to (stop reading if you don’t want to know) speak through a system of blinking developed by his speech therapist that is almost as frustrating to watch. OK, there’s no comparison. This guy had it worse, but the film does such an amazing job of putting you in his body that you have a realistic glimmer of his struggle. And a glimmer is all you need to know that if faced with the same situation, you’d probably roll over and die.

Unbelievably, the man painstakingly blinks out a book about his life, managing to express that while he is trapped in his body, his mind is free. This accomplishment makes anyone else’s attempt at writing evermore seem frivolous and meaningless.

I left the theater appreciating the precision of words and language like never before but at the same time wanting to talk non-stop, to overwrite, to waste words— because I could.


“Kerfuffle” is a word that my co-worker reintroduced me to recently, and we feel strongly about raising its profile. “Kerfuffle” means a commotion or disturbance and is chiefly British (those Brits get all the cool words). In order to restore “kerfuffle” to its greatness, we must all pledge to use it liberally. The Super Bowl and the upcoming primaries offer ample opportunity. In Boston, the confluence of these two events could result in a Patriots victory parade falling on Super Tuesday, the perfect storm for a kerfuffle.

Be warned, though, lest an extra “l” find its way into the word if, like me, you are tempted to spell it “kerfluffle.” Any word containing a derivative of “fluffy” is automatically cuter…but in this case, is incorrect.