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4 Comments

  • Great article, Michael. I had never heard of pundigrion, and I don’t expect I’ll ever use it (except possibly for its own sake, as a trivial fact). Newspapers’ focus on new entries and obsolete words is understandable, given that it makes for an easy read that can be filed and framed as a popular, ‘quirky’ story.
    I wonder too whether it has something to do with the rate of language change. Languages are dying out at a great rate, and dialects are shifting (as they do, except maybe faster now), so the fixation on newish and archaic terms can tap superficially into uncertainty about what that all means, nostalgia for what once was, and anxiety about where it’s going. (Cue comments about the state of the language today, with its LOLs and Twitterings.)
    Regardless, it is a shame that there’s comparatively little interest in the remarkable advances that have taken place in linguistics and lexicography in our lifetime.

  • Why do newspaper copy editors do this? Because it’s their job when dealing with a story about the release of a lot of uninteresting-to-outsiders facts (which is what a dictionary is, for people who aren’t wordniks). They are trained to look for the quirky fact embedded in the huge pile of bumf and make it the story lead. There’s a good discussion of this style in Headlines and Deadlines by Garst and Bernstein (1940), the classic work about copy editing, under the discussion of elephant (“shoot it in the heart”) vs. locust (“blanket the ground”) stories. Picking out bonking or pundigrion treats the story as an elephant.