Director, Author Services, LinDee Rochelle, December 22, 2010:
“Mommy, where did I come from?” the baby word boldly asked. Everyone is tracing their roots. With the relative ease and affordability of book publishing, our ancestral origins have become books of genealogical fun and sometimes profit. The advent of DNA analysis has identified many a skeleton in the ol’ family closet; and some ancestral histories rival the best bodice-ripper!We’re not the only ones, however, with captivating inherited stories.
Word origins are also a fascinating and informative discovery that can lead you to breathing new life into an old word, or turning a more unique phrase, to the delight of your readers. With the right amount of talent and promotion, one word could throw your next book into the annual top ten lists…
An interesting comment that speaks to our word origins and usage as a whole is quoted in a 12/20/10 AP article, “Audacity of 'austerity,' 2010 Word of the Year” by Russell Contreras. Along with “austerity,” “socialism” made Merriam-Webster’s top ten list this year. Contreras offered an observation by Allan Metcalf, an English professor at MacMurray College in Jacksonville, Ill., and author of OK: The Improbable Story of America's Greatest Word.
“Around 20 to 30 years ago, everyone would know what 'socialism' was. Same with bigot [also on the list]. That fact that they have to be looked up says something about us." Unfortunately, we never learn from the article just what that says about us, but nevertheless …
Many moons ago I picked up a 1968 edition of Wilfred Funk’s Word Origins and their Romantic Stories (© 1950). It is still my go-to authority for distinctive words or common words with fascinating foundations. Funk’s cover example is priceless, “Apparently our English forefathers didn’t take too bright a view of marriage, for with them the word wed once meant ‘to wager’ and later on ‘to marry.’ You could weddian your money on a racehorse. Or you could weddian a woman ‘for fairer, for fouler.’”
But consider this: if you re-discover a word that has not been in recent use and offers a particularly vibrant meaning for a key phrase in your book, with some savvy marketing you might even spawn the 2011 word of the year. At the very least, your unique use might interest the media and attract some quality PR.
Let’s take “mugwump” for instance.
No, it is not a directive to mug the wimp—although, you could create that definition (taking liberty with spelling) in a coming of age story as youthful slang—see how easy that was? Actually, the term enjoyed its heyday in 1884 during a split in the Republican Party—not surprising, this odd little word is pretentiously political in origin.
The century-plus Algonquian Indian word meaning “great man” or even “chief” was coined in the press to address the superior attitude of members who refused to support James G. Blaine for president. Its common usage is as one who acts independently, especially in politics. But have you heard this term applied to anything—even political commentaries—lately? As we all know it could have aptly applied this year!
Perhaps a book slated to publish in the 2012 political year would benefit from the use and marketing of mugwump. Funk’s humor reigns supreme in his treatment of this word as he repeated a joke thought to be older than his attributed quote, but still, “Albert J. Engel is reported to have said in the House of Representatives in April, 1936, that a mugwump has ‘his mug on one side of the political fence and his wump on the other.’” Love it
In the sandlot ballgame that is currently independent book publishing (lots of players, but few who make it to the major leagues), your book needs more than the ubiquitous hook. Send it sailing over the heads of the crowd with contrived creativity, sans perilous hyperbole.
According to Funk: “Hyperbole—A term in rhetoric for an absurdly extravagant overstatement. The Greek hyperbole gave us the word, and the idea for it is made up of hyper, ‘over,’ and ballein, ‘throw.’ You have picked up that ball and thrown it much too far.”
With social networking spreading our words as contagiously as a virile virus (remember when “viral” only applied to ailments?) this marketing ploy is entirely possible. Contreras quoted John Morse, president and publisher of Merriam-Webster, "‘What we look for ... what are the words that have had spikes that strike us very much as an anomaly for their regular behavior,’ Morse said.”
So next year, let’s have more profitable fun with words! Check out Merriam-Webster’s words of the year since they began the lists in 2003, on the Savannah Morning News site. What’s the good word for 2011?
Warm wishes to you and yours for a wonderful Holiday Season! … LinDee