While cleaning the floors this past weekend I was reminded of one of the all-time greatest things to come out of the eighties. I’m not talking about Duran Duran, Kevin Bacon, or even the giant cordless phone. Nor am I referring to shoulder pads, wide belts, or big hair. Although I loved each and every one of those things—and, sadly, have the photos and other memorabilia to prove it—what I love and miss more than any movie, band, gadget, or fashion trend from the eighties is the sniglet.
For the uninitiated and the slow to recall, a sniglet is a word that doesn’t appear in the dictionary but should. Popularized by Rich Hall on Not Necessarily the News, sniglets are to me, the writer, what I imagine a skid steer is to my brother, the landscaper: incredibly useful and yet great fun! Back in the day I would watch with intense anticipation for the sniglet segment of Not Necessarily the News, and delight in each and every one Mr. Hall had to share. So enamored was I with the concept of the sniglet that I even had a sniglet-a-day calendar to cement my status of a sniglet devotee. (Oddly, I never came up with a sniglet to replace the phrase ‘sniglet devotee,’ so feel free to submit your suggestions.)
Examples I recall from that calendar include backspackle, which refers to the muddy line that forms along your spine when riding a bike through puddles or on wet terrain, and hydroaclimation, which refers to the way people ease themselves into a body of cold water slowly, section by section, rather than jumping or diving in all at once. Others abound, but my favorite sniglet of all is carpetuation, which refers to the act of repositioning a piece of fuzz or other debris on the floor in order to assist the vacuum in picking it up after it has failed to do so after two or more previous passes.
Carpetuation is my favorite sniglet for two reasons. First, it’s an awesome word. It sounds so serious and real that you could use it in casual conversation about cleaning (assuming, of course, that one can have a casual conversation about cleaning; personally I take my cleaning very seriously, so it would have to be a serious conversation about cleaning) and no one would know it’s not an ‘official’ word except Rich Hall and his fellow word nerds. Second, it refers to something so silly and yet so COMMON to the human condition. I mean, who among us has not been fed up trying to vacuum up a clump of hair or piece of string that you are moved to move IT just enough for the brush roller to catch hold of and suck it up into oblivion? And yet, it seems so silly to reach down and pick it up only to put it back down and try to vacuum it up again. But we all do it—because no matter what it is you’re trying to vacuum up, it’s WAY easier to reposition it and try again than it is to shut off the vacuum cleaner and walk over to the trash can. And so we carpetuate.
It’s important—to me anyway—to distinguish sniglets from slang. Slang words are already words, and therefore, cannot be sniglets. So ‘booty’ is not a sniglet whether it refers to one’s bottom, a pirate’s score, or sexual congress.
And just as slang words do not qualify as sniglets, nor do words that are pronounced differently according to regional dialects. For example ‘ain’t’ may not be a ‘word’ per se, but as a mispronunciation of ‘isn’t’ it is. Just as the word ‘aunt’ can be pronounced three ways—ant, aint, and awnt—so, too, can other words be pronounced more than one way and be correct—like oil, which in the south is pronounced ohl, and radiator, which in the northeast is pronounced ‘radd/ee/ay/tor instead of ray/dee/ay/tor.
So what makes me such an expert on sniglets? Besides being a big fan of Rich Hall and Not Necessarily the News, that is.
Well, not to brag or take anything away from Mr. Hall, but my auntie and I were using sniglets LONG before the word sniglet came along. Mostly we used them in Scrabble, mind you. Because when you have almost all the letters you need to make an awesome word except for one, and the remaining tile, if used in place of the one you’re missing, would change the word you’re trying to spell into something clever or funny, you have NO choice but to share the word as well as its definition. Even if you don’t actually get to play the word, you must share with the class. It would be rude not to.
Some notable examples from our games include ‘topiamy’, which is a plant that’s been sculpted to resemble one of my sisters-in-law, and ‘wobblet,’ which refers to a wine glass that’s prone to tipping—presumably due to a manufacturer’s defect as opposed to operator error. Others include ‘ostretch,’ which we can only assume is the love child of a large feathered bi-ped and a giraffe, and ‘boomering,’ which I imagine is what your ears do after you’ve been hit by a wooden tri-cornered weapon in the outback.
But not all sniglets are the result of clever wordplay. Some are comprised of pure nonsense, like pediddle, which refers to a car with one headlight out, and sniglet.
The same could be said of this column, I suppose. Sometimes it involves clever wordplay; but sometimes it’s pure nonsense.