Sunday, November 27, 2005

Meta-word

Today, Shauna and I settled on the meaning of the word "cromulent." If you aren't familiar with this word, watch more of (the good seasons of) The Simpsons. It comes up in this dialogue:

Edna: Embiggens? I never heard that word before I moved to Springfield.

Ms.Hoover: I don't know why. It's a perfectly cromulent word.

I have found this definition online for it in several places:

cromulent

[nonsense word] used in an ironical sense to mean legitimate, and therefore, in reality, spurious and not at all legitimate (assumes common knowledge of the Simpsons reference)

However, I don't like this definition. It doesn't properly fit the context. Shauna and I determined a much more fitting and useful definition: when applied to a word, it means that the word may not appear in the dictionary, but the meaning is perfectly clear from the construction. "Embiggens" is not in any (respectable) dictionary, yet it's clear what it means, especially in context. The irony here is that cromulent is not a cromulent word. (Does this sound like any other roots you know? "Virulent", maybe, at best? Or make you think of Oliver Cromwell?)

Besides being fitting (it makes sense in the context it was used) and useful (plenty of words fall under this definition, and I think it should be more acceptable to make up words so long as it's clear what they mean), this definition appeals to me because it's meta. It's a word about the definition and nature of other words. I should tell Stuart. (For anybody not at UA... Stuart gave a great talks about Meta.)

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