Wednesday, September 21, 2005

"Those esquivalient little wretches."

Today, in your Chicago Tribune, Nathan Bierma writes about a "gotcha" word created for the New Oxford American Dictionary to detect copyright infringers.

The fictional word is "esquivalience" which is defined as "the willful avoidance of one's official responsibilities; the shirking of duties."
The word's etymology is traced to the late 19th Century, "perhaps from French esquiver, 'dodge, slink away.'"

But while "esquiver" is a real French word, "esquivalience" is an invention. McKean confirmed this for The New Yorker, saying the New Oxford American team set out to make up a word for "working hard," which they were. But one editor, Christine Lindberg, came up with a word that meant just the opposite.

"I wanted the word to suggest character weaknesses," Lindberg writes by e-mail, "and words like 'quivering' and 'vacillating' went through my mind and became the glob of brain putty that eventually got fashioned into 'esquivalience.'" ***

Of course, in the world of lexicography, a made-up word can become real simply by having people discuss it -- and then use it.

Lindberg, the inventor of "esquivalience," says the word is real to her. "It is only this recent bit of attention to my infamous little neologism that has reminded me of its fauxness," she says. "I find myself using the word regularly, and I've grown quite fond of it. I especially like the critical, judgmental tone I can get out of it: 'Those esquivalient little wretches.' Sounds literate and nasty all in one breath. I like that."
Many thanks to Ms. Lindberg for creating a single word that captures the myriad ways that Bush administration failed the people of the Gulf Coast.

No comments:


Blog Archive