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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.

10 Fascinating Facts About The Scarlet Letter

These days, we tend to think about The Scarlet Letter in relation to high school students struggling with their English papers, but we didn’t always see the book that way. When Nathaniel Hawthorne published the novel on March 16, 1850, it was a juicy bestseller about an adulterous woman forced to wear a scarlet ‘A’ on her chest by a community steeped in religious hypocrisy. Here are 10 things you might not have known about the classic tome.


Hawthorne, who was born in Salem, Massachusetts, was aware of his messy Puritan heritage. His great-great-grandfather William Hathorne came to Salem in 1636. As the Massachusetts Bay delegate, he tried to rid the town of Quakers by having them whipped and dragged through the street half naked. His son, John Hathorne, was even worse. As a magistrate during the Salem witch trials of 1692, he examined more than one hundred accused witches, and found them all guilty. Hawthorne detested this legacy and distanced himself from his ancestors by adding the “W” to the spelling of his name.


Unable to support his family by publishing short stories, Hawthorne took a politically appointed post at the Salem Custom House in 1846. Three years later, he was fired because of a political shakeup. The loss of his job, as well as the death of his mother, depressed Hawthorne, but he was also furious at Salem. "I detest this town so much that I hate to go out into the streets, or to have people see me,” he said.

It was in this mood that he started The Scarlet Letter.


In 1846, Hawthorne's sister-in-law Elizabeth Peabody published the work of Hungarian linguist Charles Kraitsir. Two years later, it was discovered that Kraitsir’s wife had seduced several of his students at the University of Virginia. He left his wife and daughter in Philadelphia and fled to Peabody for help. Peabody responded by going to Philadelphia in an attempt to gain guardianship of the daughter. This didn’t go over so well with the wife. She followed Peabody back to Boston and confronted her husband. In response, Peabody and Kraitsir tried to get her committed to a lunatic asylum. The press got wind of the story and Kraitsir was skewered for looking weak and hiding behind Peabody’s skirts. Hawthorne watched as the scandal surrounding a woman’s affairs played out on the public stage, right as he was starting The Scarlet Letter.


Hawthorne must have known there was historical precedence for The Scarlet Letter. According to a 1658 law in Plymouth, people caught in adultery were whipped and forced “to weare two Capitall letters namely A D cut out in cloth and sowed on theire vpermost Garments on theire arme or backe.” If they ever took the letters off, they would be publicly whipped again. A similar law was enacted in Salem.

In the town of York (now in Maine) in 1651, near where Hawthorne’s family owned property, a woman named Mary Batchellor was whipped 40 lashes for adultery and forced to wear an ‘A’ on her clothes. She was married to Stephen Batchellor, a minister over 80 years old. Sound familiar?


In an 1871 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, editor James T. Fields wrote about being Hawthorne’s champion. Not only did he try to get Hawthorne reinstated in his Custom House post, Fields said he convinced Hawthorne to write The Scarlet Letter as a novel. One day, while trying to encourage the despondent writer ("'Who would risk publishing a book for me, the most unpopular writer in America?' 'I would,' said I"), Fields noticed Hawthorne’s bureau. He said he bet Hawthorne had already written something new and that it was in one of the drawers. Hawthorne, flabbergasted, pulled out a manuscript. “How in Heaven's name did you know this thing was there?” he said. He gave Fields the “germ” of The Scarlet Letter. Fields then persuaded Hawthorne to alter “the plan of that story” and write a full-sized book. The rest is history.

Or is it? Hawthorne’s wife Sophia said of Fields’s claims: “He has made the absurd boast that he was the sole cause of the Scarlet Letter being published!" She added that Edwin Percy Whipple was the one who encouraged Hawthorne.


Hester Prynne is a tall, dignified character who endures her outcast status with grace and strength. Although she has fallen to a low place as an adulteress with an illegitimate child, she becomes a successful seamstress and raises her daughter even though the authorities want to take the child away. As such, she’s a complex character who embodies what happens when a woman breaks societal rules. Hawthorne not only knew accomplished women such as Peabody and Margaret Fuller, he was writing The Scarlet Letter directly after the first women's rights convention in New York in 1848. He was one of the first American writers to depict “women’s rights, women’s work, women in relation to men, and social change,” according to biographer Brenda Wineapple.


As you probably know, Hawthorne hits you in the head with symbolism throughout The Scarlet Letter, starting with the characters’ names—Pearl for an unwanted child, Roger Chillingworth for a twisted, cold man, Arthur Dimmesdale for a man whose education cannot lead him to truth. From the wild woods to the rosebush by the jail to the embroidered ‘A’ itself, it’s easy to see why The Scarlet Letter is the book that launched a thousand literary essays.


In the 87,000-plus words that make up The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne used “ignominy” 16 times, “ignominious” seven times, and “ignominiously” once. He apparently had affection for the word, which means dishonor, infamy, disgrace, or shame. Either that, or he needed a thesaurus.


While the reviews were generally positive, others condemned The Scarlet Letter as smut. For example, this 1851 review by Reverend Arthur Cleveland Coxe: “Why has our author selected such a theme? … Is it, in short, because a running underside of filth has become as requisite to a romance, as death in the fifth act to a tragedy? Is the French era actually begun in our literature? … we honestly believe that "the Scarlet Letter" has already done not a little to degrade our literature, and to encourage social licentiousness.” This kind of rhetoric didn’t hurt sales. In fact, The Scarlet Letter’s initial print run of 2500 books sold out in 10 days.


The Scarlet Letter made Hawthorne a well-known writer, allowed him to purchase a home in Concord, and insured an audience for books like The House of Seven Gables. However, The Scarlet Letter didn’t make Hawthorne rich. Despite its success in the U.S. and abroad, royalties weren’t that great—overseas editions paid less than a penny per copy. Hawthorne only made $1500 from the book over the remaining 14 years of his life. He was never able to escape the money troubles that plagued him.

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Pop Culture
Is the True Identity of Voldemort's Pet Snake Hidden in the New Fantastic Beasts Trailer?
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Warner Bros.

In the Harry Potter series, many of Voldemort's horcruxes were give rich backstories, like Tom Riddle's diary, Marvolo Gaunt's ring, and of course, Harry himself. But the most personal horcrux containing a fragment of Voldemort's soul is also the biggest mystery. Voldemort carries Nagini the snake with him wherever he goes, but we still don't know how the two met or where Nagini came from. Fans may not have to wait much longer to find out: One fan theory laid out by Vanity Fair suggests that Nagini is actually a cursed witch, and her true identity will be revealed in the next Fantastic Beasts movie.

On March 13, the trailer dropped for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, the second installment in the Harry Potter prequel series written by J.K. Rowling. The clips include lots of goodies for fans—including a first look at Jude Law as young Dumbledore—but one potential bombshell requires closer examination.

Pay attention at the 1:07 mark in the video below and you'll see Claudia Kim, the actress playing a new, unnamed character in the film. While we don't know much about her yet, Pottermore tells us that she is a Maledictus or “someone who suffers from a ‘blood curse’ that turns them into a beast.” This revelation led some fans to suspect the beast she transforms into is Nagini, the snake destined to be Voldemort's companion.

That isn't the only clue backing up the theory. The second piece of evidence comes in the trailer at the 1:17 mark: There, you can see an advertisement for a "wizarding circus," featuring a poster of a woman resembling Kim constricted a by massive snake.

If Kim's character does turn out to be Nagini, the theory still doesn't explain how she eventually joins forces with Voldemort and becomes his horcrux. Fans will have to wait until the film's release on November 16, 2018 for answers. Fortunately, there are plenty of other Harry Potter fan theories to study up on in the meantime.

[h/t Vanity Fair]


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