Mind the Gaps

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No, not that kind of gap.

English is a pretty cool language, all told.

We have words like “swashbuckle,” “flibbertigibbet,” “quark,” “onomatopoeia.”

We have adjective upon subtly nuanced adjective: wet, damp, moist, dank, humid, sodden, foggy, dripping, misty, muggy, steamy, soggy. Beautiful, gorgeous, lovely, pretty, handsome, darling, charming, comely, cute.

We’ve stolen–err…borrowed words from all the best languages around the planet: ghoul (Arabic), tycoon (Japanese), bagel (Yiddish), coleslaw (Dutch), to name a few.

And yet…we have weird holes in our language.

The other day I was reflecting on a day spent in the company of my nieces and nephews and found myself once again irritated that there is no collective, non-gender-specific term for nieces and nephews. Every time I want to talk about them, I have to spell it out: nieces and nephews. Three words, five syllables. It’s all very clunky.

I whined about it on Twitter, and struck a chord. Someone also pointed out that there is no word that means aunts and uncles. We have words to use for both mother and father (parents), grandmother and grandfather (grandparents), brothers and sisters (siblings), husband and wife (spouses). Why the weird gaps? (As a side note, there also aren’t specific words for a female cousin vs. a male cousin.)

Someone on Twitter mentioned that Norwegian has a word–søskenbarn–that, directly translated, basically means “sibling child.” I love that. I’m not sure it quite works in English (siblingbairn, maybe?), but…there should be a word!

Back in 1951, the linguist Samuel E. Martin coined the word “nibling” to mean “a child of a sibling,” but the word never really caught on. Maybe it didn’t make it to the right people. Maybe he was an awkward word nerd who wasn’t great at parties. (If so, I feel ya, Sam!)

But he also didn’t have the advantage of social media.

In a time and place where “cray” and “adorbs” and “on fleek” can sweep the nation to become common in a matter of years, at least among the youf who are our future, surely we can create and spread some new words to fill these holes in our great language.

Let’s get together on this, people. Let’s make it happen.

Missing morphological forms. Personally, I’m rooting for stupible.14591649_1386829998013492_5520201211032846952_n

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One thought on “Mind the Gaps

  1. Not the gap we need worry about, but the dash.
    Born on – Died on. What we do during the dash.

    English is a strange language. There are so many words we do not have. One thing I enjoy about German. No word; make a new one.

    Like

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