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14 Underused Words Coined by James Joyce

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Making up words is a common Internet pastime, but James Joyce was way ahead of the curve in this area. In many of his works—but especially in the innovative Ulysses—the English language as it was didn’t meet Joyce’s needs, so he made up words of his own, slamming together existing terms and creating new variations. Few of these neologisms are common, though the following are all recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary. They’re all due for a comeback, so consider using these 14 words in your think pieces and judicial dissents.

1. ripripple

Reduplication might be the most fun way to make a word, as seen in terms like jibber-jabber, hocus-pocus, and choo-choo. Joyce went to the reduplication well for this word, which refers to something flowing like rippling water. Thanks to the repetition, it’s as if the word itself is riprippling.

2. and 3. poppysysmic and plopslop

This word has to do with sounds produced by the smacking of the lips, and I can imagine the ever-creative Joyce licking his own lips when using this word in a neologism-heavy passage from Ulysses: “Florry whispers to her. Whispering lovewords murmur liplapping loudly, poppysmic plopslop.” Plopslop is another great word reminiscent of slipslop, which can mean a drippy, sappy form of malarkey.

4. pelurious

Meaning furry or hairy, pelurious is perfect for those times when writing hirsute just won’t do. Despite their tiny frames, papillons are quite pelurious.

5. and 6. smilesmirk and smellsip

When Joyce wrote, “She smilesmirked supercilious” in Ulysses, he coined a perfect term for our smug age, when every facial expression, word, and emoji comes with an implied eye roll. This term is similar to another Joycism: smellsip. In Joyce’s age and now, the most reliable way to make a new word is by gluing two old words together.

7. mumchanciness

This obscure term is a variation of another rarity—mumchanceness—which had more to do with being mum than taking a chance when it appeared in a 1910 novel by Anthony Hope: “Perhaps his very mum-chanceness was his saving. Glib protestations would have smacked too strongly of the principal to commend the agent.” Joyce added a single syllable and considerable charm when he used it in a 1920 letter: “I am much inconvenienced by their cursed mumchanciness.” In other words, “By the ravens of Odin, why don’t they speak up?”

8. weggebobble

This humorous alteration of vegetable is reminiscent of other respellings of words for the sake of humor, like erhmagerd or Homer Simpson’s Jebus.

9. skeeze

Joyce used this term for peering or leering twice in Ulysses: when he described characters “skeezing round the door” and “always skeezing at those brazenfaced things on the bicycles with their skirts blowing up to their navels.” There does seem to be a relationship to the contemporary, slangy sense of skeeze as a harlot, which doesn’t pop up until 1989 in the lines of another poet, Sir Mix-A-Lot.

10. peloothered

As Paul Dickson demonstrated in his brilliant book Drunk: The Definitive Drinker’s Dictionary, you can never have too many words for being plastered. Joyce’s contribution to the lexicon of drunkenness was peloothered, which he used in 1914’s Dubliners: “It happened that you were peloothered, Tom.” This may be a variation of an older term with the same meaning: bloothered.

11. tattarrattat

This variation of rat-a-tat belongs to the wonderful set of onomatopoeiac words, such as boom, kaboom, buzz, whoosh, and beeeeeeep. The use in Ulysses is self-explanatory: “I knew his tattarrattat at the door.” That says so much more than knock knock, doesn’t it? A tattarrattatter is a knocker with style, and tattarrattat would also work well as a description of drumming.

12. impotentizing

In a 1920 letter, Joyce coined a word perfect for our Viagra-centric age: “Moly could also be absinthe the cerebral impotentising (!!) drink of chastity.” In fact, I’m pretty sure the medical term for all bonerfying drugs is un-impotentizers.

13. pornosophical

The OED defines this Joyce-ism as “of or relating to the philosophy of the brothel,” but it’s ready for any boom-chicka-wah-wah-related meaning today. If the amusing @KimKierkegaard Twitter account—which mashes Søren Kierkegaard’s philosophy with Kim Kardashian’s inanity—discussed KK’s sex tape, that would be truly pornosophical.

14. yogibogeybox

The OED defines this woo-woo gadget as the “paraphernalia of a spiritualist.” For superhero and sorcerer supreme Dr. Strange, his yogibogeybox would include the Eye of Agamotto, a classic comic-book MacGuffin. For the magical misleaders of the real world, a yogibogeybox is likely far more mundane. I’m thinking crystals or, if you’re lucky and someone else is unlucky, voodoo dolls.

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P.G. Wodehouse's Exile from England
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You don’t get more British than Jeeves and Wooster. The P.G. Wodehouse characters are practically synonymous with elevenses and Pimm’s. But in 1947, their creator left England for the U.S. and never looked back.

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, better known as P.G., was living in northern France and working on his latest Jeeves and Wooster novel, Joy in the Morning, when the Nazis came knocking. They occupied his estate for a period of time before shipping him off to an internment camp in Germany, which he later said he found pretty pleasant:

“Everybody seems to think a German internment camp must be a sort of torture chamber. It was really perfectly normal and ordinary. The camp had an extraordinarily nice commander, and we did all sorts of things, you know. We played cricket, that sort of thing. Of course, I was writing all the time.”

Wodehouse was there for 11 months before being suddenly released to a hotel in Berlin where a man from the German foreign office named Werner Plack was waiting to meet him. Wodehouse was somewhat acquainted with Plack from a stint in Hollywood, so finding him waiting didn't seem out of the ordinary. Plack advised Wodehouse to use his time in the internment camp to his advantage, and suggested writing a radio series about his experiences to be broadcast in America.

As Plack probably suspected, Wodehouse’s natural writing style meant that his broadcasts were light-hearted affairs about playing cricket and writing novels, This didn’t sit too well with the British, who believed Wodehouse was trying to downplay the horrors of the war. The writer was shocked when MI5 subjected him to questioning about the “propaganda” he wrote for the Germans. "I thought that people, hearing the talks, would admire me for having kept cheerful under difficult conditions," he told them in 1944. "I would like to conclude by saying that I never had any intention of assisting the enemy and that I have suffered a great deal of mental pain as the result of my action."

Wodehouse's contemporary George Orwell came to his aid, penning a 1945 an essay called “In Defense of P.G. Wodehouse." Sadly, it didn’t do much to sway public opinion. Though MI5 ultimately decided not to prosecute, it seemed that British citizens had already made up their minds, with some bookstores and libraries even removing all Wodehouse material from their shelves. Seeing the writing on the wall, the author and his wife packed up all of their belongings and moved to New York in 1947. They never went back to England.

But that’s not to say Wodehouse didn’t want to. In 1973, at the age of 91, he expressed interest in returning. “I’d certainly like to, but at my age it’s awfully difficult to get a move on. But I’d like to go back for a visit in the spring. They all seem to want me to go back. The trouble is that I’ve never flown. I suppose that would solve everything."

Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack before he could make the trip. But the author bore no ill will toward his native country. When The Paris Review interviewed Wodehouse in 1973, they asked if he resented the way he was treated by the English. “Oh, no, no, no. Nothing of that sort. The whole thing seems to have blown over now,” he said.  He was right—the Queen bestowed Wodehouse with a knighthood two months before his death, showing that all was forgiven.

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The Internet Archive is Making 62 Obscure, Out-of-Print Books Available Online
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Dozens of of obscure, out-of-print books are about to become much more accessible thanks to the Internet Archive, the digital archive of public domain media. But to do it, they’ll have to exploit a loophole in a controversial copyright law, as Ars Technica reports.

The Internet Archive is releasing the Sonny Bono Memorial Collection, a group of books from the 1920s and 1930s that are out of print, but still technically under copyright—meaning they’re extremely difficult to get a hold of.

The Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act was a copyright extension law passed in 1998 to extend copyright protections to works published after 1923 (which would otherwise have already entered the public domain) by 20 years. Unfortunately, while Disney may be happy that Mickey Mouse still falls under copyright protections, that also means that less-famous books that are now out of print can’t be made available to the public. But a provision of the law provides for public access for research, allowing nonprofit libraries to distribute the works if they cannot be found elsewhere for a reasonable price.

A screenshot of an online collection of books from the Internet Archive
Screenshot, Internet Archive

The Internet Archive explains:

We believe the works in this collection are eligible for free public access under 17 U.S.C. Section 108(h) which allows for non-profit libraries and archives to reproduce, distribute, display, and publicly perform a work if it meets the criteria of: a published work in the last 20 years of copyright, and after conducting a reasonable investigation, no commercial exploitation or copy at a reasonable price could be found.

Libraries don’t tend to take advantage of the law because it takes considerable resources to track down which works are eligible. However, the Internet Archive collaborated with Elizabeth Townsend Gard, a Tulane copyright expert, and a pair of interns to find books that could be scanned and uploaded online legally. Gard has released guidelines for libraries based on this work to help other archives do the same.

The Internet Archive is starting out with 62 books published between 1923 and 1941 (meaning they’re within 20 years of their copyright expiring) and plan to release up to 10,000 more in the near future to be downloaded and read by online users. And the collection will grow each January as more books enter that 20-year window.

[h/t Ars Technica]


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