Posts Tagged ‘Mnemencholia’

Errata

Posted: November 7, 2008 in Mixed Lollies
Tags: , , , , ,

Every so often, I make the mistake of thinking my life is a quiz show, a spy novel or some weird hybrid of the two, and start memorizing obscure and pointless facts about myself in case I’m ever asked to prove my identity at gunpoint. This probably says more about my psyche than is, in fact,¬†comfortable, but nonetheless, I persist, forcibly recalling odd moments from primary school, ancient thoughts, uncomfortable memories and utterly useless trivia against inevitable necessity. Such as:

– The longest a song has ever been stuck in my head is six consecutive days. The year was 1999, and the song was Every Morning by Sugar Ray, who practically no-one has heard from since.

– My three pet mice were called Pippi, Minnie and Maxi.

РWhen my late Aunt Barbara dropped by our house when I was eight and nobody heard the bell, my mother and I were watching White Fang.

РI used to have an invisible friend called Bad Girl, who inexplicably spoke in an American accent and whose sole function was to orchestrate whatever bad things happened to my toys in the course of a game.

–¬†At my primary school, we’d collect handfuls of placid, pretty-looking, green-and-yellow¬†insects, which we called Banana Bugs, and spiky seed pods, which we called bommyknockers. Not for any special¬†reason. They were just cool.

–¬†For several years growing up, I was convinced that the horse in the poster by my bed moved once a night, and that if I saw this happen, I’d fall asleep within five minutes. (Yeah, I’ve always been crazy.)

– I stopped believing in Santa after I¬†received a pair of rollerbades in my Santa stocking that I’d already found in the top of mum’s cupboard. After feeling momentarily disappointed, my reaction was to tell¬†my best friend at the first available opportunity, thereby (unintentionally)¬†ruining her Christmas.

– I’ve never broken a bone, but I’ve sprained my ankles about five times all told, and my shouders make a decidedly unhealthy crunching noise whenever I roll them.

– The first time I ever listened to the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio series, I had to pause the CD after the phrase ‘they were stuck in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet, stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying “Beware of the Leopard”‘ because I was laughing too hard, and continued to do so for the next half-hour.

…and so on.

I was in a fey mood last night, but ‘fey’ didn’t quite seem to cover it. Burdened with the need to update my Facebook status accurately and appropriately, I scanned my knowledge of the English language for a suitable adjective – fruitlessly. Finally, after many minutes of struggle, I put on my thinking boots and¬†invented¬†a new¬†word: mnemencholy, derived from mneme (memory) and melancholy (sadness). Content at last, I slept.

On waking, I discovered that the illustrious Nick Harkaway, that well-known Englishman and little-known lexicographer, had already found my word and proceeded to blog a better definition for mnemencholia than I could possibly articulate. I am therefore stealing it; or rather, approving it for future usage. So, for those who are interested, mnemencholia (from mnemencholy) now officially means:

“Nostalgic sorrow brought on by recollection; melancholia triggered by an object, phrase, or scent and its associated memories; the wide sense of understanding and regret rising from the apprehension of one’s own history.”

Awesome.

I love the idea of¬†neologisms. Above any other quirk, I¬†cherish¬†the malleability of the English language. It rewards linguistic creativity, and, indeed, encourages it. There’s something profoundly satisfying in creating or stumbling on a new term, particularly if we find it clever, or funny, or apt, or (especially) all three. I love that crazy, screwball, onomatopoeic¬†slang like woot and clusterfuck can breed successfully in darkness, like forest mushrooms. I love that Shakespeare¬†has left us with Shylock and seachange; that A. A. Milne gave us heffalump, tigger and wol;¬†that crazy British aristocrats gave us sandwich, sundowner and¬†pukka while equally crazy Londoners gave us yob and Cockney rhyming slang. I love that tactile imagery like whale tail, muffin top and¬†bridezilla made their way to the dictionary, while gribblies, grock and meme are increasingly of the now.

What I don’t like, however, is corporate jargon. I shudder at every mention of swings and roundabouts, blue sky thinking, synergistics, action items or actioning tasks. Some people might (and, indeed, have) called that hypocritical, but the difference is one of joy and functionality. Corporate jargon doesn’t delight in itself. It isn’t clever, nor do buzzwords become popular because people enjoy their use. Rather, they become awkward, mechanical mainstays, often more cumbersome and less helpful than the plain language they replace. Technical jargon, in its proper sense, means words that are part of a specialised¬†vocabularly, as in the medical, legal and IT professions, but this is not true of corporate jargon. It obfuscates, generalises, hinders. Many terms¬†grow, not from¬†playful creativity, but uncorrected¬†malapropisms. Whereas slang¬†is viral in the¬†digital sense, passing rapidly¬†by word of mouth through a series of enthusiastic adapters, corporate jargon is a virus in the medical sense,¬†infiltrating healthy cells and using them to manufacture new infections, which then spread¬†through a mixture of¬†force, proximity and submission.¬†Cliches, at least, began as¬†sturdy concepts: their very effectiveness¬†lead to overfamiliarity, like playing a favourite song so¬†frequently that it becomes¬†unbearable. The best mutate into aphorisms. Not so corporate jargon, which is¬†propagated¬†purely on¬†the basis of necessity, and not¬†effectiveness. ¬†¬†

In short, good language is just another way of thinking clearly, or creatively, or at all. Like all new things, neologisms need to be tested, experimented with, tried on – our choice of slang is just as relevant¬†to our personalities as our¬†taste in clothes, films or music, and yet, quite often, we fail to even make a conscious decision about the words we use, or the circumstances under which we use them. Language, it’s been said, is the most singular achievement of our species, and¬†even without an alphabet, it’s still something unbelievably special.

So don’t take¬†your speech for granted. Read up on collective nouns (they’re pretty awesome); put old words into new contexts;¬†watch Joss Whedon shows; read Scott Westerfeld or Shakespeare or Kaz Cooke or Geoffrey McSkimming or anyone at all; think. But more than that, have fun.

It’s what words are for.