MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Next up on The World and Everything in It: Words as heard on TV.
Here’s George Grant with this Month’s Word Play.
GEORGE GRANT: Do you remember sniglets? Rich Hall is an Emmy Award winning television sketch writer and comedian. From 1980-1982, he wrote for The David Letterman Show. Beginning in 1984 he was a cast member on Saturday Night Live. At the same time, he co-created Not Necessarily the News, a comedy series for HBO. The series included parodies of TV news broadcasts and commercials. A recurring feature was the presentation of what Hall called, “words that don’t appear in the dictionary but should.” He called these often-humorous words, sniglets.
Sniglets were an immediate success and spawned a small cottage industry of spin-offs including board games, newspaper challenges, reader submission contests, and a small library of books. The books, with entries arranged in alphabetical order like a dictionary, included pronunciations, definitions, and illustrations. Each of the books included an “official Sniglets entry blank” inscribed with the message, “Dear Rich: Here’s my sniglet, which is every bit as clever as any in this dictionary.”
But virtually all of Hall’s sniglets are indeed quite clever. Most are punning portmanteaus, blended words that combine the sounds and meanings of two or more other words into an entirely new comedic construct.
Aquadextrous is the ability to turn the bathtub faucet on and off with your toes. Bozone is the substance surrounding dull minds that stops bright ideas from penetrating. Brakenoia is the urge to step on that nonexistent brake on the passenger side of the car. Elecelleration is the mistaken belief that repeatedly pressing the elevator button will make it go faster. Snackmosphere is the pocket of air found inside snack packages and potato chip bags. Postalports are the annoying windows in envelopes that never seem to line up with the address. Profanitype is the special symbols and stars used by cartoonists to replace expletives. Pursabyss is where unrecovered belongings reside within a woman’s handbag.
Hall was once asked if sniglets were completely for comic value? He answered, “Yeah. Well, umm, no. I wouldn’t say they’re completely for comic value. I mean, I get letters from schools all the time saying how they’ve incorporated a sniglet book into their reading program. You can look at a lot of the words and sort of break them down into their etymological origins.”
Serious or not, most sniglets remain nonce words—unused nonsense daffynitions. But at least one sniglet—which Hall may or may not have actually coined—has made it into mainstream acceptance: spork, a hybrid word to describe hybrid picnic flatware. Thank goodness for that!
I’m George Grant.
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