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Word Nerd: Meep!

Written by Rebecca Christian

“Meep!” The Oxford English Dictionary has come out with its new words for 2011, and I’m such a “lumpenintelligentsia” I don’t know what half of them are. It’s enough to put me “on the lash.”

Meep, I found out, is a wonderful all-purpose word, not to be confused with “meh,” which signals indifference, as in answering “meh” when asked if you want to watch a documentary on water conservation. Meep can be used in place of what we used to call “swears,” as in “What the meep is going on?” But it is also used more benignly as a greeting, an exclamation or in place of uh-oh. A couple years ago, a Massachusetts high school principal was so riled by meep’s overuse confusing and annoying teachers that he banned its use on campus. Thus he no doubt guaranteed that he’d be forever known as The Meepster and that the kids would joyously meep their way to graduation.

But back to those other two words. The lumpenintelligentsia aspire to be intellectuals, and to be on the lash, or lashed, is to be drinking or drunk. What happened to the good old days when people were blotto, three sheets to the wind, and pie-eyed?

Acronyms are among the new words, too, like “LOL” for Laughing Out Loud. It used to mean Little Old Lady, which was slightly more charitable than Old Maid. Yes, Virginia, in the bad old days we actually played a criminally incorrect card game where you dreaded drawing the bespectacled and pruney-looking Old Maid card.

A family legend was made when one of the kindly spinster sisters who lived next door to us came over with leftover cake and asked, “I bet you didn’t know we were having a party, did you?”

“Yes, we did,” I piped up, “because Daddy said when old maids are having a get-together, they just park every which way!” Picking up on his mortified expression, I amended, “Maybe it was Mom who said that.”

The new word “Wags” seems slightly old school, too, short for wives and girlfriends. It became popular during the 2006 World Cup in Germany when consternation arose over the much-chronicled presence of wives like micro-mini-wearing former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham, who were thought to be a distraction to the athletes. She certainly was to the spectators!

I assumed that “couch surfer” had something to do with TV, but what was I thinking? Younguns don’t watch telly any more, they just watch their phones. Anyway, a couch surfer is a moocher who wears out his welcome on a series of friends’ couches. I suppose to use gender-neutral language I should have said “his or her welcome” in the previous sentence, but somehow I can’t picture a female couch surfer as readily as a rumpled and unshaven male one, can you? Couch surfing seems to me an enterprise like cheating, so much effort you could just as easily study or find an apartment.

New, too, is “non-dom,” short for “non-domiciled,” a person living in a country that is not their legal residence. Non-dom nearly rhymes with with “rom-com,” a romantic comedy, and “dot-bomb,” a failed Internet company. My writer’s mind envisions a rom-com about non-doms who have dot-bombed. Also from the cyber world is “fabless” for a tech company that doesn’t do its own manufacturing, or fabricating. It sounds like the way my Southern relatives would say “fabulous”: “Oh, Blanche Elaine, honey, you look fabless in that fuchsia frock!”

Something there ought to be a word for, but isn't, is the feeling you get when you walk briskly out of your office cubicle with a chore or destination in mind and completely forget what it was but are nonetheless still trying to look purposeful so your coworkers won't realize how ditzy you are. Meep!

A version of this article appeared in the Telegraph Herald newspaper April 9, 2011.

 

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