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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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See the Secret Paintings Hidden in Gilded Books
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YouTube/Great Big Story

The art of vanishing fore-edge painting—hiding delicate images on the front edges of gilded books—dates back to about 1660. Today, British artist Martin Frost is the last remaining commercial fore-edge painter in the world. He works primarily on antique books, crafting scenes from nature, domestic life, mythology, and Harry Potter. Great Big Story recently caught up with him in his studio to learn more about his disappearing art. Learn more in the video below.

11 Secrets of Romance Writers

Some readers may snicker at book covers featuring aerobicized men and titles like The Firefighter’s Woman or The Bull Rider’s Christmas Baby. But if it weren’t for the steamy, escapist fantasy of romance novels, a healthy portion of the publishing industry would cease to exist: According to the Romance Writers of America (RWA), romantic fiction brings in $1.08 billion annually and accounts for 13 percent of all fiction sales in the marketplace.

What keeps readers coming back for more? We asked some of the genre’s top authors for insight into the “secret baby" trope, why pen names are necessary, and the one rule of romance that can never, ever be violated.


Novelist Shelley Adina (A Lady of Resources, A Lady of Integrity) writes historical, Amish, and steampunk-themed fiction, just a few of the many sub-categories that appeal to niche audiences. To better understand her characters, Adina dresses in period outfits to gather what she calls “tactile details.”

“I like to feel how a heroine would feel in the clothes,” she says. “I’ve been laced into a proper corset and you realize what kind of dance steps you can do, or why a lady’s back never touches a chair—a tight corset won't allow it."


Covers of two romance novels by Shelley Adina
Shelley Adina

The authors of romance novels don't use pen names out of embarrassment. Adina (a.k.a. Adina Senft) says that pseudonyms—many authors have more than one—help readers compartmentalize writers who generate multiple series. “People who read Amish fiction may not read steampunk,” she says. Another, bigger reason: Bookstore software can use “kill orders” on authors who don’t sell a certain number of titles. If they fall below parity, retailers will automatically stop ordering more copies from that author. “If that happens,” she says, “you have to reinvent yourself with a new name.”


The analog publishing model has traditionally been one of permanence: Once a book is in print and in readers' hands, there's no going back. But romance novel readers are a very particular clientele with certain expectations about how they’d like their protagonists to behave—and the self-published digital distribution model that's popular within the genre allows for a little customization. Author Heather C. Leigh (the Famous series) found that out when her first books featured a heroine who was a little too acerbic. “My first three books sold well, but there were critiques that my female lead was too sarcastic,” she says. “I understood and took it out. I don’t mind making work better based on feedback.”


The covers of two romance novels by Heather C. Leigh
Heather C. Leigh

Despite seeing hundreds of new titles published every month, the romance genre still manages to find new ways to visualize their shirtless male protagonists. In many cases, though, the beefcake winds up getting decapitated. “A lot of times, the man will be turned away or cut off at the forehead,” says author Eliza Night (The Conquered Bride series). “Readers want to imagine his looks in their own mind.” Grooming is also a necessity. “I had a cover with chest hair once. My readers did not like it.”


Self-published authors (who make up about two-thirds of the total romance e-book revenue on Amazon) spend much of their time marketing their work. To help maintain interest from their existing readership, some send out email newsletters with updates on new titles and include exclusive passages that can enhance the experience of a previous book. “My first book was about an actor who had to do a love scene with a woman he hated,” Leigh says. “It was never going to be in the book because that was from his girlfriend’s point of view, but I got a chance to write it as a bonus.”


While resources for aspiring writers of all genres are plentiful, the romance field makes an exceptional attempt to recruit new talent. Industry interest group RWA doubles as a conduit between established writers and novices, hosting conferences and panels on the best ways to break in. “We don’t live in a competitive hierarchy,” Adina says. “There are so many readers with so many diverse tastes. It’s a big community where we support one another.”


An Amish woman walking in a field

While the Amish sub-genre has received media attention for its peculiarity, Adina doesn't believe it's so unusual: She says readers are attracted to a pastoral environment “without having to leave their wired-up house.” For accuracy’s sake, the author has enlisted an Amish reader to vet her titles for details. The popularity of the books “mystifies them,” she says. “They don’t understand the interest. They just hope the books might be able to point people to God.”  


Readers like resourceful women and skilled, wealthy love interests—and they especially like it when the former keeps their baby a secret from the latter. “The trope is that the hero and heroine have an affair, she gets pregnant, never tells him, and he comes back around five, 10, or 20 years later and finds out,” Adina says. “Reunion stories are popular. It’s the appeal of a responsible man.”


The cover of a romance novel by Eliza Knight
Eliza Knight

Knight cringes at the idea romance authors do little more than transcribe their own lurid fantasies. A self-described “history geek,” she travels frequently for research into Scottish history. “Most of us who write history nerd out on it,” she says. While once writing about a zeppelin-riding heroine, Adina jumped into one that offered rides over Silicon Valley to see how it would feel. She also got her motorcycle license for the same reason. “We’re serious about it,” Adina says. “We’re not sitting around in housecoats with barking Pomeranians.”


Many romance authors have at least one story to tell about people in their private life finding out they write for the genre and subsequently losing any sense of boundaries. “Strangers have asked me, ‘Do you test out scenes before you write them?’” Leigh says. “It’s like they lose a filter. It’s not real life. J.K. Rowling isn’t a wizard.”


While writing instructors invariably have all kinds of techniques for nourishing a story, the romance genre spells it out in an unequivocal manner. According to the RWA, nothing can be considered a “romance novel” without a central love story (naturally) and what authors have come to refer to as the Happily Ever After ending, or HEA. “Romance is a courtship story,” Adina says. “Readers expect the bond will be created at the end of the book. If not, it’s Nicholas Sparks or Romeo and Juliet. It would be like having a mystery where the detective doesn’t solve the case.”

This story originally appeared in 2016.


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