Wednesday, August 10, 2011
When silly words die
Languages change. New words, like "texting," frequently appear. Old words, like "austerulous," fade away.
For a while, Time magazine and Bill Buckley made an effort to popularize ancient words (or maybe it was just intellectual snobism), and SaveTheWords.org is devoted to keeping old words alive.
But SaveTheWords is devoted to real words -- words that appeared in newspapers, magazines, TV shows and dictionaries.
I recently wondered what happens to the wonderful silly words that are used within families, often for generations, but die when there is no next generation.
When I was a kid, we said "boompsie" for fart. Does anyone else still use the word? Urban Dictionary says it means a behind, but that's not what it meant in my family.
Sometimes these family words evolve from baby talk. When I was young, apple juice was called "fibbling juice." My little sister, Meryl, and I used to blow air through a straw in the juice glass to make bubbles at the bottom, and the sound of the bubbles seemed like "fibble." Urban Dictionary has a much naughtier definition of "fibbling."
When I was at Lehigh University in the mid-60s, one of the engineers from the student radio station built a primitive wired remote muting control that could be used to silence the commercials on the geek lounge TV. It was called the "scrovney."
The kid in the room with the lowest status was put on scrovney duty, and it was his job to anticipate the onset of a commercial during "Batman" or "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea." (We said, "bottom of the sink to acknowledge the cheesy, unconvincing special effects and monsters.) Scrovney Boy was supposed to press the scrovney button just-in-time to avoid the ads. If he was late -- or early -- by even a fraction of a second, the others in the room would harass him with loud shouts of "SCROVNEY!" and pelt him with wads of paper saved for the purpose.
For nearly 40 years, my wife and I have always referred to our TV remote controls as "scrovneys." Our scrovneys are now wireless and they control fast-forwarding on our TiVos, but the term and the purpose have survived.
Before this blog post, "scrovney" has not been on Google. I thought Marilyn and I would be the last people to ever shout "SCROVNEY!" But, thanks to search engines, maybe the silly word will survive on the web.