Link to Part One
Probably the most extreme example of a household language is idioglossia, also known as cryptophasia, and commonly referred to as twin talk or twin speech. Children who are exposed to multiple languages from birth are also inclined to create idioglossias, but these languages usually disappear at a relatively early age, giving way to use of one or more of the languages introduced. Apparently autonomous languages (yet another word for the same thing) exist in about 40% of all twins. So it’s far from uncommon but the chances are higher with identical twins. There have been high profile cases though like June and Jennifer Gibbons and the Kennedy twins who had well-developed secret languages that only they could understand. Wikipedia describes the language used by the Kennedy twins, Poto and Cabengo:
Their language was spoken extremely quickly and had a staccato rhythm. These characteristics transferred themselves to the girls' English, which they began to speak following speech therapy. Linguistic analysis of their language revealed that it was a mixture of English and German (their mother and grandmother were German-born), with some neologisms and several idiosyncratic grammatical features.
and provides a short extract from a conversation between the two girls to illustrate:
Pinit, putahtraletungay. (Finish, potato salad hungry)
Nis, Poto? (This, Poto?)
Liba Cabingoat, it. (Dear Cabengo, eat)
La moa, Poto? (Here more, Poto?)
Probably the best-known example, albeit a fictitious one, is in the film Nell where Jodie Foster’s unintelligible, idiosyncratic language is made up of English-like phrases that are a blend of stroke-impaired speech and twin language.
The most commonly known made-up language (if you’re British and of a certain age) is Unwinese, the creation of the British comedian Stanley Unwin who spoke a mishmash of English and expressions of his own devising. It gets classified as gobbledegook but that’s really a misleading term because there are rules and other people have learned them to imitate him; it’s closer to the language game gibberish. I once saw him interviewed by Michael Barrymore and the entire interview was carried on in Unwinese which was fun for them I’m sure, but hard on the poor audience. Recurrent expressions were:
Deep joy: Pleasing
Goodlilode: Good or excellent
Nockers (as in "I did nockers"): Not
Flollop: Fall, or Go
Once a polly tito: Once upon a time
Thriftymost on your banky balancer: Very good value
Garbage path: Garden path
Deep folly: Foolish deed, but sometimes simply means Complicated arrangement(s)
Huffallo-dowder: Up and down
Notice how -bold and -bode are common suffixes. This is similar to what rappers do inserting "-izzle" after a word's last pre-vowel consonant while discarding the remaining letters. I wrote a short article about Unwin a couple of years back called Basic Engly Twentyfido if you’re interested and there are some video links too. I have a great deal of affection for him. I was also very fond of the pianist and entertained Victor Borges and one of his routines involved Inflationary English. The rule is a simple one: any time a number is suggested within a word, inflate its value by one. Simple examples would be:
"Anyone up for tennis?" becomes "Anytwo up five elevennis?”
"I ate a tenderloin with my fork" becomes "I nined an elevenderloin with my five'k"
These two ‘languages’ were created to entertain not obfuscate but they manage to do both. Argot, however, is a secret language used by various groups – including, but not limited to, thieves and other criminals – to prevent outsiders from understanding their conversations; it dates back to 1628 and under the strictest definition, an argot is a proper language, with its own grammar and style. The closest I’ve come to that was in the civil service when I was there. Memos were written (yes, it was that long ago) in what I think of to this day as abbreviationese, a form of bureaucratese; if there was a way to reduce the numbers of letters you had to write then that’s what you wrote. Nowadays we have textese, or as they would call it, txtk, and twitterspeak where most of the words seem to need to begin with twi-, twe- or twa-: twaiting (twittering while waiting), tweetaholism (the continued use of Twitter as an addiction that is difficult to control) and twitterrhea (just use your imagination).
I wouldn’t call any of these words neologisms, not right away. They’re actually protologisms. Wikipedia says that it was coined by Mikhail Epstein, the Professor of Cultural Theory and Russian Literature at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and that it was first used in 2005. It’s from Greek protos, first, plus logos, word.
The difference between a protologism and a neologism is that the latter has actually been used somewhere, even if only once, while a protologism exists only as a suggestion of a word that might be used. – World Wide Words
So, when is a word a protologism and when is it a nonce word? Okay, a nonce word is a temporary word created to serve a purpose and then dropped later. Seamus Heaney has a poem called ‘Nonce Words’. I think this term could be applied to many of the made-up words poets use. I don’t make up words often but I have done like in this early poem:
from MENTAL IN GLASGOW
in a crowded supermarket ...
gaping mouth ...
and a tight knotted little hand
The word was created solely to try to communicate how a mentally disabled child might think. It’s not a very good poem, which is why I’ve just quoted from it, but you get the idea. Carrie is fond of them, like “egocentenially” in her poem, ‘reflex’ or “preconflagrations” in her poem ‘hairfire’, in fact the title would count as one too. James Joyce is probably the best-known exponent of the made-up word. Some only exist in his novels (particularly Finnegans Wake):
The fall (bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbron-ntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohooh-oordenenthurnuk!) of a once wallstrait oldparr is retaled early in bed and later on life down through all christian minstrelsy. The great fall of the offwall entailed at such short notice the pftjschute of Finnegan, erse solid man, that the humptyhillhead of humself prumptly sends an unquiring one well to the west in quest of his tumptytumtoes: and their upturnpikepointandplace is at the knock out in the park where oranges have been laid to rust upon the green since dev- linsfirst loved livvy.
and just as well if you ask me. Since many of the words used in the book are actual combinations of other words, e.g. the very first word of the book ‘riverrun’, they’re described as portmanteau words. More common examples of these are words like ‘smog’ which was coined around 1900 as a portmanteau of ‘smoke’ and ‘fog’. ‘Brunch’ is another which was first used in an edition of Punch in 1896. Later we have acronyms that get absorbed into the everyday speech like Yuppie (young upwardly-mobile professional), Wasp (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant), Oink (One Income, No Kids), Dinky (Double Income, No Kids Yet) and, apparently, Jap (Jewish American Princess).
I think one single thing comes through this article and that’s the fact that we’re not satisfied – not any of us – with just using language. And the more one is into words the more frustrating it can be just to use the words we’re given. This is why neologisms, new words, appear all of the time. It’s a desperate need to find ways to accurately communicate what’s going on in our heads. What gets me, and I was only talking to Carrie about this the other day, is how many things, everyday things, I don’t have a word for and have to rephrase what I’m saying to work around the problem. For example, everyone knows what a liar is. Hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of lies are told every day. If a person who tells a lie is a liar when what do you call a person who is lied to? Why is there not a word for that? We have a tester and a testee, a donor and a donee, so why is it a liar and the lied to? Eh? Why not a lyee? Makes sense to me.
I remember a competition on Radio One years ago looking for new collective nouns (Seriously, why is it a murder of crows?) and the winning entry was “a persistence of Jehovah’s Witnesses” – marvellous! It’s a bit like an ostentation of peacocks (yep, that’s a real one) but please tell me who decided on a cartload of chimpanzees, a piteousness of doves or an implausibility of gnus. I read those out to my wife just now and her response? “Someone just made those up.” Of course they did. Every word we’ve ever had was made up. What I want to know is how they got people to accept that you could get away with calling a group of starlings a murmuration. What’s wrong with ‘flock’? In an episode of Inspector Morse, Morse asks one of colleagues at the scene of the crime if there is a collective noun for pathologists. They decide on 'a body of pathologists'.
There’s a word – I mean, why wouldn’t there be? – for “any word that doesn't appear in the dictionary, but should”; it’s sniglet. Comedian Rich Hall made it and has published several books of them. In a 1990 interview, Hall was asked if the "Sniglets books [were] completely for comic value?" He answered:
Yeah. Well, 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. And you can learn a lot about how and where words derive from. When you assign this frailty of human nature a word, then the word has to work. It has to either be a hybrid of several other words, or have a Latin origin, or something. – Reuven Lerner, ‘An Interview with Rich Hall’, The Tech, Sept 25th 1990
I can understand that. I know what I was like when I discovered prefixes and suffixes. They were like verbal Lego bricks to me; you could just keep adding them on at the beginnings and ends of words to your heart’s content. One of the words I love for this reason is hemidemisemiquaver which Americans call a sixty-fourth note but seriously hemidemisemiquaver is a much cooler expression. There is a quasihemidemisemiquaver but it’s rarely used (Beethoven's Pathétique Piano Sonata is one example in case you’re interested) and only practical in slow pieces.
Of course the Pathétique Sonata brings us right back to where we started all this: names. What was wrong with Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13? The name – Grande sonate pathétique if we’re going to be fussy – came from his publisher. But that brings up the whole issue of nicknames, pet names and even pseudonyms. Remember I mentioned the expression my wife and I use, “a Tracey”? Well, her nickname at work was ‘Tink’ after Tinkerbell from Peter Pan. Unusual for girls to have nicknames, at least when I was at school none did, none that I can remember, but the boys most certainly did: Gee-Gee, Buh Buh, The Nor, Chips (even the teachers called him ‘Chips’), Croc, Big Nell, Wee Nell, Pro, Midge. Teachers too: Spider, Mark Spitz (after the swimmer), Stookie, Shuggie, Bobby Lennox (after the footballer). Even my own name: Jim, Jimmy, James, Jamie, Jimbo. We just can’t seem to leave well alone. A random selection from online (some are animals in case you were wondering):
Kosaburo but gets called Kosanji
Athina but gets called Theenie
Toffee but gets called Snoffs
Gypsy Rose but gets called Gypsy Monster
George but gets called Eddie
Cricket but gets called Wiggle
What I don’t get is calling a big dog ‘Tiny’ or a redhead ‘Blue’. I mean, seriously, what is going on there? Apparently Australians are very bad for that one. Or what about the parents who name their kid one thing and call them something else right from the jump.
Of course, people don’t just have nicknames or pet names for people, they often have cute names for parts of their anatomy, usually their private parts. Probably the most common is to refer to a man’s penis as “Little [whatever the guy’s name is]”, but there are others: Captain Fantastic (or just ‘The Captain’), Godzilla, Chewy, Thumper, Pepe, Mr Happy, Winky. Breasts also get nicknames: “the boys” (after the (in)famous Wonder Bra ad), “the girls” (I heard that in an episode of Castle recently), the twins, Pinky and Perky (if you’re British), Thelma and Louise. And that’s without getting into the enormous list of euphemisms for parts of the body.
Have I covered everything? I doubt it.
That’s as much as I have to say on the subject for now anyway but I’d be keen to hear of your own experiences with . . . I want to write ‘oikolectia’ but is that the right word? I don’t want to rewrite my sentence but at the same time I don’t want to use the wrong word because there is nothing worse than using the wrong word when you’re known as a writer. Maybe the right word is ‘oikolectics’. Dialectics is a proper word so why not oikolectics? We’ll go with that.