Monday, March 15, 2010

The Meaning of Liff

I recently unearthed a book I've owned for years and needed to remember a word from, The Meaning of Liff by Douglas Adams and John Lloyd. Even the gift inscription on the inside cover, written by our friend Miriam, is almost as amusing as the contents. It reads
Please accept this with my compliments:
1. I like your shirt.
2. Dinner was divine.
3. I never knew it could be like this.
4. What practical closets!
5. You dance divinely.
6. What's a nice girl like you...
7. What nifty pillows!
8. You have such excellent taste in pickles.
9. You slink most compellingly.
10. Your flesh has a nice color.
11. I admire the snugness of your cat.
12. I enjoy the fine curly golden hair on your arms.
13. Your teeth, even and white, contrast pleasingly with your alligator boots.
14. You lope with exquisite grace.

The book's preface points out that
"In Life,* there are many hundreds of common experiences, feelings, situations, and even objects that we all know and recognize, but for which no words exist.
On the other hand, the world is littered with thousands of spare words that spend their time doing nothing but loafing about on signposts pointing at places.
Our job, as we see it, is to get these words down off the signpost and into the mouths of babes and sucklings and so on, where they can start earning their keep in everyday conversation and make a more positive contribution to society.
*And, indeed, in Liff."

One of the best words from this book, as I'm sure any fellow book-lover will agree, is the term for "the way people stand when examining other people's bookshelves," to stand "ahenny." This is the word I wanted to use, and so I had to unearth the book to remind myself of it.

Other words that I wish would come into more general usage include:

Ardslignish (adj) Adjective that describes the behavior of Scotch tape when you are tired.

Baldock (n.) The sharp prong on the top of a tree stump where the tree snapped off before being completely sawed through.

Cranleigh (n.) A mood of irrational irritation with everyone and everything.

Dipple (vb.) to try to remove a sticky something from one hand with the other, thus causing it to get stuck to the other hand and eventually to anything else you try to remove it with.

Ely, (n.) The first, tiniest inkling you get that something, somewhere, has gone terribly wrong.

Fraddam (n.) The small awkward-shaped piece of cheese that remains after you grate a large piece of cheese and enables you to cut your fingers.

Golant (adj.) Blank, sly, and faintly embarrassed. Pertaining to the expression seen on the face of someone who has clearly forgotten your name.

Hesperia (n.) Phenomenon that causes Broadway audiences to give a standing ovation to anything that moves.

Lulworth (n.) Measure of conversation: A lulworth defines the amount of the length, loudness, and embarrassment of a statement you make when everyone else in the room unaccountably stops talking at the same moment.
(Note: My father once scored 9 out of 10 lulworths when he shouted the word "circumcision" in a crowded Little Rock, Arkansas restaurant bar.)

Nazeing (participial vb.) The rather unconvincing noises of pretended interest that an adult has to make when brought a small dull object for admiration, by a child.

Pabbay (n., vb.) (Fencing term.) The play, or maneuver, where one swordsman leaps onto the table and pulls the battle-ax off the wall.

Sconser (n.) A person who looks around when talking to you, to see if there's anyone more interesting about.

Sturry (n., vb.) A token run. Pedestrians who have chosen to cross a road immediately in front of an approaching vehicle generally give a little wave and break into a sturry.

Tingrith (n.) The feeling of aluminum foil against your fillings.
(Note: "tingrith" is already becoming archaic as ceramic fillings become more common, but I think it's still a useful word. If you gnaw on foil.)

Ullapool (n.) The spittle that builds up on the floor of the orchestra pit.

Woking (participial vb.) Standing in the kitchen wondering what you came in here for.

Please vote in the comments for which one of these words you would find most useful in daily life.

I must admit that I may have committed "ripon" in this review: Ripon (vb.) (Of literary critics.) To include all the best jokes from the book in review to make it look as if the critic thought of them. I should also admit that the words I selected are ones I can imagine using, and so I've left out many words describing bodily functions and secretions.

And one last word. This one is not a useful word, but I include it because it seems a very good thing to have a word for, even if it's terribly highly specialized:
Goadby Marwood (n.) Someone who stops John Cleese on the street and demands that he do a funny walk.

21 comments:

kittiesx3 said...

Definitely sconser. And cats do this all the time.

readersguide said...

Hard to chose, but I think I like ely.

FreshHell said...

Gosh, those are all good words. I particularly like golant and sconser and will have to find ways of using them in conversation. But, my favorite, which describes my mood most days is cranleigh. That pretty much sums up my daily existence. Esp today.

Jeanne said...

Elizabeth, yes they do. I know another person besides me who does it, and for the same reason--we have some trouble with auditory discrimination in a crowd.

Readersguide, that's the one I use most after standing ahenny. I think I've been using it wrong all these years, though; I use it as an adjective ("I have an eelie feeling")

Uh, FreshHell, I thought of you when I picked out the word cranleigh. It must have been recent discussions about daylight savings time.

lemming said...

absolution - we hear absolution in religious contexts, but rarely elsewhere, and I maintain that "ablute" needs wider use.

Valerie said...

I can't narrow the list down to a single word and must admit that many of them could be useful. There are three that rise to the top of the list: cranleigh, which is not uncommon here in the winter, fraddam, a word whose coinage convinces me that I am not the only one walking around with grated fingers, and woking, an embarrassing state that causes other chores to get done in my kitchen.

Jeanne said...

Lemming, can you use ablute in a sentence, please?

Valerie, you are not the only one walking around with grated fingers!

Harriet said...

Sconser is probably the one I'd use the most, particularly when attending academic conferences. But the first two are my favorites, Ardslignish because it's a sentiment I regularly encounter (although generally with packing tape) and Baldock because that was the name of my fifth grade teacher. Cranleigh would be my favorite and most used if the word sounded like what it is. I think it'a a bad match of word with meaning.

Betty said...

Lately it's been Woking. I think I've been daydreaming too much lately because I find myself in odd rooms at odd moments in time with no idea as to why I'm there. :-)

Although Ely is absolutely awesome too.

Amanda said...

I'm going to pick two works: Cranleigh (I feel like that all the time) and Lulworth (because haven't we all done this?).

Avid Reader said...

Oh, I just love that book. I vote for
Hesperia, because really there needs to be a word for that.

FreshHell said...

I must, though, protest the "irrational" part of cranleigh. My irritation with most things is entirely rational and don't bother to tell me otherwise. I won't be listening.

Nymeth said...

I love this book so much! :D I had forgotten many of those words, actually, which is surely a sign I should read it again.

Have you read The Meaning of Tingo? The concept is similar, but it uses actual words from several languages around the world whose meaning is very specific/peculiar/awesome/etc.

Anyway, my favourite here is probably "ely". It just *sounds* like something going wrong :P

Lenore said...

Hilar! Sconser!!

nat @book, line, and sinker said...

i adore baldock and will seek out opportunities to use it in my daily conversations!

Jeanne said...

It looks like sconser, ely and cranleigh are the winners (despite Harriet's reservation about sound and sense--I think others might be getting the "crab" sound out of the beginning of the word, for which we can only blame craisins and cranapple).

I'm sure that all our conversations will be improved with the additions of these words. A recent email I got was vastly more entertaining because of its use of them. Titled "Did you have an ely?" it begins:
"I've been out of touch for a couple of days. A tree down the street was
baldocked in Saturday's storm, causing a power disruption throughout our neighborhood (and leading to great cranleigh). Happily, our power was restored last evening, just in time to avert the pabbay I was about to
unleash on the power company."

Nymeth, I had not read or heard of The Meaning of Tingo before you mentioned it here, but it's on my book wish list now.

Care said...

Fabulous words. Thank you very much. I love words. Especially obscure and useful ones with which to confuse and impress my friends.

Jeanne said...

Care, we need a word that means both confuse and impress, don't you think?

Kristen said...

I think I might need this book. And I will definitely be sprinkling ahenny in my conversations from now on. :-)

Trapunto said...

I've been enjoying your blog. "Hesperia" is my vote! It applies to community theater and amateur concerts too. And what about the word for the feeling when you are sitting down, and everyone else is starting to stand up because a few people did, and pretty soon you are claustrophobically surrounded by a sea of butts at eye level, so you know you are about to stand up too?

Jeanne said...

Trapunto, I'm glad you and Avid Reader like Hesperia. My father, a theater professor, told me all my life that it was fine to sit still when an audience did the standing ovation and I didn't feel the performance deserved it. So I'll sometimes sit there looking at butts.

Since my knee replacement, though, I'm usually grateful for the extra minute to stand up and stretch my long legs until they'll work again without being in anybody's way.