March 9, 2012

I’ve been Kerouacking through life — but I should have been a Faulkner


Alexander Nazaryan at the Daily News (New York — not L.A. or Galveston) has compiled a list of neologisms, taken from the online Urban Dictionary, all derived from the names of famous authors. “They represent the history of literature as seen by millions of 17-year-olds today,” he writes. Most are nouns that could become reverse-engineered aptronyms:

Keats: “One who has much intelligence, yet is reclusive and worryingly geeky. ”

Bronte: “A girl of her own sexiness, her own way in life. Doesn’t care what people think. Very blissful and beautiful.”

Eggers: “An antagonist. One who often steals golf carts and random cans of soda.”

Foer: “A hipster who has became vegan or vegetarian after reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals. … Ex: I watched “Food Inc.” and thought it was good, but I’m not turning into a foer anytime soon.

Walt Whitman: “Slang for cocaine. (Whitman was known for his long poetic lines.)”

Or my favorite from this list: Chaucer: “The end of a joint.”

Some have become verbs:

Faulkner: “To go from being a nerd to getting all the hot girls.”

Rowling: “A term for being under the effects of cannabis (jay) and ketamine (kay): J.K. Rowling. Ex: Man, I’m rowling so hard right now.

Or verb and noun:

Kerouac: “To wander aimlessly for the giddy thrill. Ex: I was bored, so I went on a kerouac.

The definition of Melville, which Nazaryan does not include, can also be found in Urban Dictionary but it’s too crude and misogynistic to republish in this family newspaper.

I also looked up Kipling, which repeats, without attribution, the invention of Donald McGill, which in its antique day was famously titillating:

“Do you like Kipling?”

“I don’t know, you naughty boy, I’ve never kippled!”

Nazaryan doesn’t say how he learned of this trove of names — has anybody come upon such usages in the wild, in print or in conversation? It doesn’t seem likely. Urban Dictionary is a site where definitions are created more than reported and archived as in traditional dictionaries.

After his discovery Nazaryan concludes by saying that he’s “moving to Greenland” — by which I think he means that the definitions offend as an example of the debased understanding that all elders impute to their juniors, in this case American juniors (Nazaryan makes much of the supposed youth of Urban Dictionary’s contributors — but he doesn’t look very old to me). But some of the definitions evince a familiarity with their sources that belies ignorance — at least, ignorance of the kind that usually has me packing my bags for those mythically more sophisticated shores.

And some are playful non sequiturs; Seuss, for example: “Name affectionately given to dogs believed to be reincarnated versions of other dogs.”

I can think of worse things to be doing than making up words. One or two of them may stick. After all, like all the other words — they’re made up.


Dan O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Melville House.