That word you’re searching for…it’s right there, on the tip of your tongue… it’s… it’s… wait for it…. it’s – nonexistent! Or at least it’s not in your vocabulary bank. Maybe you’re searching for a word that you know the concept you want to convey, but just can’t find the correctly nuanced word for it?
In regular conversation I happened to say, “Debi muckled right on to the idea…” and my daughter looked at me quizzically, “Muckled? – is that even a word???” Others present assured her that it was; even my other 29-yr old daughter knew what ‘muckled’ meant, and proceeded to explain it to her younger sister, as meaning: to clamp on tight.
My thinking was that ‘muckled’ came from ‘muck’, which is a real word, but it turns out that the verb ‘to muckle’ is Maine slang, not in the dictionary as legit – oops, my bad. (We live in Maine, which like many other regions of the country, has its own fun with language.)
But beyond the state borders, it occurred to me that since words are often made up for some useful purpose, with some catching on and entering the lexicon (ahh, there’s a good word), perhaps there is a formula that can be devised for word creation.
Yeah, there’s “darn” to replace “damn” and “heck” to replace “hell” but those softer words lack effectiveness. They are so old as to sound goofy when used today. How about some words with real punch, for our strongest feeling words (which are usually the obscene, uncouth, bad words).
Here’s an example –you feel very strongly about something and want to emphasis your feeling, but you don’t want to swear, which is too crass. But oh! swearing certainly does get good and immediate attention: “That f–king dog just sh-t on the carpet again!” (Happens more often than not at our house.)
So, is it just as effective to say, “That fricking dog just crapped on the carpet again!” ? I think so; has a good ring to it, ‘fricking’ instead of the hard swear. ‘Fricking’ is not a legit dictionary word, but is recognized slang and understood by everyone. ‘Freaking’ also works here, although ‘freaking’ is a real word, but here used is a slang context, “I’m going to lose it if that freaking dog dumps on our carpet one more time!” said in a loud yell, with strong vocal volume – yes, very effective, without having to swear.
So if ‘f—king’ can be replaced by ‘fricking’ and ‘freaking’, maybe the formula is: keep the first and last consonants in place and add the ending, if there is an ending, to get the substitute word.
Let’s see if the formula works with another colorful word: “That’s one b–ching ride!” changes to “That’s one beeching ride!” or even, “That’s one bunching ride!” Hmm. Maybe. Or how about in another scenario, “Don’t be such a beech!” “What a bunch she turned out to be!” I know, I know, the popular version is ‘beee-itttch’, but we’re going formulaic here.
It reminds me of when my kids were little and I told daughter #1 that she couldn’t say “shut up” to her older brother. So she quickly improvised, and will all the same force and venom, she screamed at him, “gud up!” She knew that almost any word that’s close can substitute nicely, with the right tone, pitch, speed and volume.
It can also go in the other direction. When I told the kids to apologize to their siblings, they would mutter a quick, “sorry”, which was void of all feeling.
Communication really is about tone; tone adds all the meaning to words themselves. Which is why email is so hard – no tone = implied tone by the reader = takes things very off course. This often happens in a void – who has time to double back on a sent email to see if feathers were ruffled by a word or two taken wrong?
My advice on important emails: put yourself in a terrible frame of mind, your beloved dog just died, then re-read the email from this perspective and see if it reads the same.
Language is dynamic, ever changing, evolving with the times. Have some fun with it and be a master by creating some fun adjectives to use in your speech instead of habitually reusing tired old cliché expressions. Please do me the biggest favor and replace “have a nice day” or “at the end of the day”, or I’ll have to, as my verbally strange mother used to say, send you to the moon eating your own teeth.