Nonce words are a subject that, for Mr. Thursday, may never reach conclusion. They are neologisms created specifically for an immediate occasion or moment, without intent of repetition. Thusly, they need to be immediately accessible in the sense that, in their brief flash of existence, their purpose needs to be understood within their context.
Nonce words have certain purposes. In some cases they are used light-heartedly. In some cases a special occasion may necessitate a new word. In some cases (perhaps most cases), the author is just being lazy.
Our little reflection upon nonce words began while reading Last Plane to Jakarta’s latest entry on the new Guns’n’Roses song (tangentially, we agree with LPTJ’s opinion on said song). The entry begins, “As everybody knows, we generally don’t roll with the wham-bam-linked-you-ma’am style here.” Now, all those lovely hyphens are forming a rather lengthy compound word, wham-bam-linked-you-ma’am, which is a play on the 1950 Dean Martin song, “Wham! Bam! Thank You Ma’am!” Deano’s tune contains no hyphenation, and in an utterly perfunctory search of the interweb, we couldn’t find any hyphenated versions of “wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am” (excluding, web addresses, of course, who often substitute the spaces between words with hyphens). It would appear that LPTJ is the first, or at least one of the first, to turn this phrase into a word. His purpose? He was being funny. (We state this as simply as possible, because we feel like we have a stick getting pushed up our ass anytime we try to intellectually talk about why something like rhyming is funny. You try it. Fuckin’ sucks doesn’t it? Anyway, back to the post.)
Other examples of nonce words come from Lewis Carroll’s The Jabberwocky, which we have pictured above, as well as from Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There. During one of the latter’s scenes, Alice is talking to a giant, talking psychedelic egg, Humpty Dumpty, who explains to her the meanings of the words in Jabberwocky. He explains that slithy is a combination of lithe and slimy, making them portmanteaus, which is a word that is formed from the blending of two other words. “Portmanteau”, interestingly, is also a nonce word in this case, and is itself a portmanteau.
Occasionally, nonce words will find a new life, or stick around far longer than originally expected. James Joyce, who wrote Finnegans Wake, coined such a word (by the way, we’ve read FW twice and we still don’t know entirely what it’s about. We do like the part where Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker, called Frosty Hosty and, in this case, Persse O’Reilly, exposes himself to a girl in the park and hilarity ensues. We think.). Joyce’s invention is quark, which he used in saying that the seabirds have “three quarks for Muster Mark,” which is akin to saying “three cheers”, but they’re ducks, so it’s also like “three quacks”, which just sounds silly, plus, they’re being mean, so it’s more like a combination of “three JEERS” and “three quacks”, so, James old boy, what shall we do? A new word! Quarks! And why are they giving three quarks to Muster Mark? We have no idea. But we think he might be a king of something that nobody likes.
We could talk about Finnegans Wake for a while.
Anyway, a QUARK is now the term for a subatomic particle which is the building block for protons, neutrons, and electrons.
Now, while LPTJ and Lewis Carroll were being light-hearted, and Joyce was doing what was necessary to fulfill his insane vision, authors like Mr. Thursday are often rushed and instead of finding the handy-dandy thesaurus, they’ll take a handy phrase and “word” it by putting hyphens through the whole thing, forming a compound nonce word. A fine example is: “counting-of-the-votes” from a November 8th post, “Nail-Biter,” and there are plenty of other embarrassing ones.
We don’t care, though. We don’t get paid for this shit. Look at the NY Times and (the worst) Newsweek. We really wonder if they have editors over there sometimes.