Stories behind Words: blagrantPosted by Andrew Delahunty on May 15, 2013
My father, who was an exuberant talker and storyteller, used to conflate words, creating inadvertent coinages on the fly in the middle of a conversation or anecdote. He tended not to notice that he’d done it, but my brothers and I, and Mum, would pounce on them with glee.
One time he mentioned someone’s razier-like wit, presumably wit as sharp as both a razor and a rapier simultaneously. On another occasion he described a group of late-night revellers as legloose, a lovely, carefree, loose-limbed, slightly squiffy mixture of footloose and legless. Then there was interspinkled, which seems to incorporate elements of interspersed, sprinkled, and intermingled, to name but three. My favourite, though, has always been blagrant, as in ‘a blagrant lie’ or ‘a blagrant disregard for the law’, a highly satisfying combination of blatant and flagrant. I think what I like about it so much is that it seems so plausible. It sounds like it ought to be a word.
Linguistically, these would be described as blends, words formed by combining parts of two other words, like brunch (from breakfast and lunch) or the recent chillax (from chill and relax). But Dad’s versions weren’t deliberate coinages, they were simply happy accidents. Accidental or not, there’s a playful inventiveness about these made-up words that I really cherished when I was growing up, and still do. He did it naturally, like breathing.
Long before I became a lexicographer, I delighted in what you might call the joy of words: puns and other forms of wordplay, word puzzles, obscure words, made-up words. And I think blagrant (and those other curious lexical mongrels) may well be where it all started. I have wondered from time to time about sneaking blagrant in as a headword in one of the dictionaries I’m helping to write, and perhaps one day I will.
About Andrew Delahunty
Andrew Delahunty is a freelance lexicographer, dictionary editor, and reference book author. He has written and contributed to a wide variety of dictionaries and reference books, and 2013 marks the thirtieth anniversary of Andrew’s first day as a lexicographer.
Andrew: this is a lovely piece and blagrant is a great word (though you shouldn’t have given the game away about perhaps sneaking it into a dictionary one day. You wouldn’t be the first…)
I too grew up in a family that loved wordplay and word games. I think I may have mentioned before in this forum my parents’ penchant for inventing adverbs that end in -lily (“Go away,” he muttered surlily), a game they got off the American humorist James Thurber. I suspect that if you did a survey of lexicographers you’d find a lot of similar tales…
Great story, Andrew. The Urban Dictionary (admittedly not a reliable source) has an entry for “blagrant” and it’s quite different:it’s seen as a blend of “blatant” and “fragrant” and refers to “someone who wears too much perfume or cologne”. I prefer your interpretation – maybe you should send it in to the UD