The world of ‘isms’

Published 1:09 pm Monday, October 16, 2017

Commentary by Dr. Don Newbury

What we knew of “isms,” during days of our youth, was limited. There were many “isms” about which we were totally unaware, and that’s still the case.

Initially, though, we figured words ending in “ism” were bad “mocus,” and to be avoided whenever possible.

Old-timers complained of painful rheumatism; some of ‘em said they had “rheumatiz.” Years later, it dawned on us that the two terms are interchangeable. Astigmatism came into focus to expand our limited inventory of “isms,” and “communism” may have been our first “ism” word unrelated to health.

Russia’s Nikita Krushchev personified communism; his name dominated radio and TV news, as well as newsreels at the movies. We considered him to be an outspoken “bad hombre.”

On one occasion, he was so upset at a United Nations meeting that he took off a shoe, using it as a drum stick and the conference table as a drum. He also is remembered for his threats to bury us.

Had Twitter been an option at the time, no telling what he might have said, but I’m thinking his 140 characters would have been smoking.

My reflections on “isms” bubbled to the top recently upon learning of The Washington Post’s winners in its annual neologism contest. Readers are asked to supply alternate meanings for common words. (Yes, if you figure I had no idea what “neologism” means, you are correct.)

I was determined to read the article, realizing that the chance to read a piece in the Post devoid of extremism isn’t all that common.

Some of the submissions made me smile; maybe they’ll have that effect on you, too.

The winner “neologized” the word “coffee.” Should it not be obvious that the “coffee” is the person upon whom one coughs?

Runner-up and third-place winners are somewhat related, perhaps deserving equal weight. “Flabbergasted” measures the shock felt upon learning how much weight has been gained. “Abdicate” is an abandonment of hope of ever having a flat stomach.

Some of the other winners include: Esplanade, an attempt at explanation while drunk; negligent, describes a condition in which you absentmindedly answer the door in your nightgown; lymph, to walk with a lisp; gargoyle, gross, olive-flavored mouthwash; balderdash, a rapidly-receding hairline, and frisbeetarianism, the belief that when you die, your soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.

If I hear of another contest like this, I intend to enter. Why not neologize “whimperism.” Actually, the definition will be soundless, depending totally on a gesture to clarify it. It is suggested for immediate use by the Texas Rangers. That’s the baseball team that teases us with play-off hopes before being swept in three games by the last place Oakland A’s. The neologism, as suggested, would be a team-wide “shrug.” (For full effect, the gesture should be enacted with all players standing, like all teams formerly did during the National Anthem.)

The Rangers’ lackluster finish, however, could serve a useful purpose. After Ranger games won at home this season, TV interviews with star players have been interrupted by Gatorade dousings administered by playful teammates.

This tired antic is “high schoolish,” and needs to be retired.

For persons whose interest in “isms” runs deep, it is noted they are suffixes with Greek origins, used to form action nouns from verbs, or “denoting action or practice, state or condition, principles, doctrines, a usage or characteristic, devotion or adherence.” Whew.

If much more is said, there’ll be equal time requested by persons who “wax algebraic,” and others who may want to revisit famous quotes attributed (rightly or wrongly) to historical figures. I don’t qualify for membership in these groups, either.

Maybe I’ll spend some time today reflecting on diagramming sentences, conjugating verbs or reviewing formulas. More likely, though, is that I’ll pass on such commitments. It is my habit, instead, to doze off, with two rescue dogs joining me in repose. And sometimes “nap” is plural.


   Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Inquiries/comments to: Phone: 817-447-3872. Website: Twitter: @donnewbury Facebook: don newbury.