Views | Beware of Scraptofted Ozarks

Views | Beware of Scraptofted Ozarks

Words have been my principal tool of trade for most of my working life. And I have been working long enough to have seen words take birth (google as a verb), head to extinction (aerodrome) and change meaning (smart; in my childhood, ‘smart’ meant ‘well turned out’). So it’s natural that I have great admiration for people who can invent words, from Lewis Carroll (“‘O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!’ He chortled in his joy") to a classmate of mine who popularized the word ‘turbed’ among his friends, meaning ‘at peace’, the opposite of ‘disturbed’.

For many years, The Meaning of Liff by the late Douglas Adams (the Hitchhiker’s Guide man) and John Lloyd, has provided much joy to my life (For those interested, it’s available free on the net, all you have to do is google).

Consider ‘abilene’ (adj.), the word for the pleasing coolness on the reverse side of the pillow. Or ‘amersham’ (n.), the sneeze which tickles but never comes. Or ‘ozark’ (n.), one who offers to help just after all the work has been done. How incomplete our languages are, without such precise words for common and universal experiences!

How often have we had to endure (or run from) a drunk person’s attempts to be endearing! Well, according to Adams and Lloyd, the man is ‘pleeley’ (adj.). How often have we felt vaguely embarrassed by the absurd flap of hair a vain and balding man grows long above one ear to comb it to the other ear! Liff has a word for that too: ‘scraptoft’ (n.). And that fold of flesh pushing forward over the top of a bra which is too small for the lady inside it? Oh, that’s ‘lusby’ (n.).

Adams and Lloyd have observed life to the lees (a word not used since Alfred Lord Tennyson in his poem on Ulysses), or at least those small universal things in life. For instance, they know well the confusion that occurs at the end of a meal with friends. How badly we needed a word for that! And the word is served to us: ‘bodmin’ (n.), the irrational and inevitable discrepancy between the amount pooled and the amount needed when a large group of people try to pay a bill together after a meal.

Similarly, the following situation which many of us have had to endure. Adams and Lloyd give us a rich vocabulary to describe its every terrible nuance. ‘Corriearklet’ (n.) is the moment at which two people approaching from opposite ends of a long passageway, recognise each other and immediately pretend they haven’t. This is to avoid the ghastly embarrassment of having to continue recognising each other the whole length of the corridor. The ordeal ends with ‘corriedoo’ (n.), the crucial moment of false recognition. They now look up with a glassy smile, as if having spotted each other for the first time, (and are particularly delighted to have done so) shouting out “Haaaaaallllloooo!"

But the moment of corriedoo must be chosen with care. Otherwise, ‘corriemoillie’ (n.) results, that dreadful sinking sensation when both protagonists realise they have plumped for the corriedoo much too early as they are still a good thirty yards apart. They were embarrassed by the pretence of ‘corriecravie’ (n.), the cowardly but highly skilled process by which both continue to approach while acting as if they haven’t noticed each other, by staring furiously at their feet, grimacing into a notebook, or studying the walls closely. But the long corriecravie made them feel silly, and they decided to go for an early corriedoo. This was a mistake. Now, they have no choice but ‘corrievorrie’ (n.), which will make them seem far sillier.

They must now embellish their approach with an embarrassing combination of waving, grinning, making idiot faces, and waggling the head from side to side while holding the other person’s eyes as the smile drips off their face, until with great relief, they pass each other. In other words, or rather, word, corrievorrie. Of course, all this can be avoided if both grit their teeth and stay in corriecravie mode and pass each other.

A ‘corriemuchloch’ (n.) is the kind of person who can make a complete mess of a simple job like walking down a corridor.

The word from Liff that touches a deep chord? Those of us who have been dragged kicking and screaming into middle age, have often felt it and searched for a word to describe that feeling. Adams-Lloyd tell us that it’s ‘glasgow’ (n.): The feeling of infinite sadness engendered when walking through a place filled with happy people fifteen years younger than yourself. Yes, I hate multiplexes.

My personal favourite, though, is ‘kurdistan’ (n.): Hard stare given by a husband to his wife when he notices a sharp increase in the number of times he answers the phone to be told, ‘Sorry, wrong number.’

Enough said. I can see your faces going ‘hove’ (adj. descriptive of the expression seen on the face of one person in the presence of another who clearly isn’t going to stop talking for a very long time). I shall leave now without getting into a ‘harpenden’ (n. the coda to a phone conversion, consisting of about eight exchanges, by which people try gracefully to get off the line). Have a frabjous day.