Also known as “Main Character Syndrome”
from EliteDaily

Last week I waxed enthusiastic about dictionaries, in all their forms and focus. Well, now I’ve made a truly unique addition to my collection, a Dictionary of  things there aren’t any words for yet—*But there ought to be.

As you can surmise from the cover, The Meaning of Liff is basically a humorous read. In 157 pages, British writers Adams and Lloyd have made a herculean effort to fill the word void with wondrous creations, some with historical notes and illustrations. Rather than inventing new words, the authors have paired each definition with the names of places in England and Scotland (Liff is a village in Scotland near Dundee).

Adams and Lloyd followed up with The Deeper Meaning of Liff. Thirty years later, Joe Morwood and John Lloyd decided to expand their geography with The Yorkshire Meaning of Liff.

(In case you don’t recognize the names, Douglas Adams is a best-selling novelist, the creator of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Dirk Gentlys Holistic Detective Agency; John Lloyd is an award-winning comedy television producer in England.)

Dalmilling (dal-MILL-ing) ptcpl. vb. Continually making small talk to someone who is trying to read a book.

In the examples I’ve excerpted below, bracketed comments [ ] are my additions.

  • Aalst (ay-AY-lst) n.
    • One who changes his name to be nearer the front.
    • [Something to consider when choosing a pen name?]
  • Bathel (BATH-ul) vb.
    • To pretend to have read the book under discussion when in fact you’ve only seen the tv series.
    • [One might assume that this applies to having only seen the movie as well.]
Glenwhilly (glen-WILL-i)  n. Scots. A small tartan pouch worn under a kilt during the thistle harvest.
[AKA under-armor.]
  • Craboon (kra-BOON) vb.
    • To shout boisterously from a cliff.
    • [And who hasn’t?] 
  • Duddo (DUD-oh) n.
    • The most deformed potato in any given collection of potatoes.
  • [Not to be confused with] Dubbo(DUB-oh) n.
    • The bruise or callous on the shoulder of someone who has been knighted unnecessarily often.
  • Ely (EE-le) n. T
    • he first, tiniest inkling you get that something, somewhere, has gone terribly wrong.
  • Falster (FAWL-ster) [FALL-ster in American] n.
    • A long-winded, dishonest and completely incredible excuse when the truth would have been completely acceptable.
Ipplepen (IP-pul-pen) n. A useless writing implement made by taping six ballpoint pens together which is supposed to make it easier to write one hundred lines.
  • Hadzor (HAD-zer) n.
    • A sharp instrument placed in the basin which makes it easier to cut yourself.
  • Juwain (ju-WAYNE) adj.
    • Only slightly relevant to the matter at hand.
    • [Such a frequently useful adjective!]
  • Kanturk (kan-TERK) n.
    • An extremely intricate knot originally used for belaying the topgallant foresheets of a gaff-rigged China clipper, now more commonly observed when trying to get an old kite out of the cupboard [closet in American] under the stairs.
Ossett (OS-et) n. A frilly spare-toilet-roll cosy
  • Lemvig (LEM-vig) n.
    • A person who can be relied upon to be doing worse than you.
    • [Need I point out how incredibly valuable such a friend/acquaintance/coworker is?]
  • Mogumber (mug-UM-ber) n.
    • One who goes around complaining that he was cleverer ten years ago.
  • Nubbock (NUB-uk) n.
    • The kind of person who must leave before a party can relax and enjoy itself.
  • Papcastle (PAP-kah-sul) [PAP-castle in American] n.
    • Something drawn or modeled by a small child which you are supposed to know what it is.
Sconser (SKON-ser) n. A person who looks around while talking to you to see if there’s anyone more interesting about.
  • Querrin (KWER-rin) n.
    • A person no one has ever heard of who unaccountably manages to make a living writing prefaces.
  • Randers (RAN-ders) pl.n.
    • People who, for their own obscure reasons, try to sleep with people who have slept with members of the royal family.  
  • Tanvats (TAN-vats) pl.n.
    • Disturbing things that previous owners of your house have left in the cellar.
  • Udine (YEW-dine) adj.
    • Not susceptible to charm.
Vidlin (VID-lin) n. The moistly frayed end of a piece of cotton thread.  “It is easier for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven than it is for a violin to pass through the eye of a needle.”
  • Wartnaby (WAWT-nay-bee) n.
    • Something you only discover about somebody the first time they take their clothes off in front of you.
  • Yetman (YET-man) n.
    • A yes-man who is waiting to see whom it would be most advantageous to agree with
    • [X. Apparently their imaginations failed them.]

I highly recommend this dictionary, if for no other reason than it’s a fast, humorous read.  Can you think of a definition we need in English that might fit your hometown?

But what about you?

Do you have your own non-words worthy of such a dictionary? I have a handful I’m willing to share, and will follow the format above. Some are in my speaking vocabulary; more are in my mental vocabulary!

  • Alcologic (al-co-LOG-ic) n.
    • Thinking or ideas that seem perfectly reasonable and logical when drunk, almost always a bad—or worse than bad—idea.
Bednertia (bed-NER-sha) n. The reluctance to get out of bed, even when drowsily awake, thinking about getting out of bed. No sex is involved.
  • Hangry (hANE-gry) adj.
    • Irritability or a bad mood caused by low blood sugar.
  • Ignoragas (ig-NOR-a-gas) v.
    • The act of not apparently noticing a fart. This is a social nicety in some situations, aimed at avoiding embarrassment. In the home setting, it may reflect habituation.
  • Netbrain (NET-brain) n.
    • A condition in which something that is usually known or remembered drops through the net and is temporarily unavailable. I first heard this word from my Associate Director of Educational Affairs at the American Psychological Association and it’s been a staple in my vocabulary ever since. I have no idea how widely used it might be.
Obvispeak (OB-vi-speak) v. Saying the obvious in any situation.  Often it is announcing something that everyone present can see. Alternatively, voicing a conclusion when there is no alternative.
  • Pickaddict (pick-AD-dict) n.
    • A person addicted to nose-picking, often in the bathroom or car when the picker thinks no one will notice. Usually controlled in public.
  • Readarhea (read-ah-REE-ah) n.
    • A condition exhibited by someone who reads aloud from whatever s/he is reading, regardless of what the other person(s) might be doing, including reading, writing, or working.
  • Rubbleit (RUB-bul-it) v.
    • To reduce to rubble, either literally or figuratively.
  • Sleepnet (SLEEP-net) n.
    • A system or habit of thought a person uses to promote sleep. Does not usually involve counting sheep.

So, what is the use of non-words? 

Besides entertainment, consider working them into your speech and/or writing. The context is usually sufficient for understanding. Such words are fresh and eye/ear-catching. Many authors have created words that are now part of everyone’s vocabulary. Just think of chortle (Lewis Carroll), freelance (Thomas Brown), litterbug (Alice Rush McKeon), mondegreen (Sylvia Wright), nerd (Dr. Seuss), robot (Karel Capek), scaredy-cat (Dorothy Parker), and scientist (William Whewell).

If you’re interested, here are some other dictionaries that only sort of exist:

Bottom Line: Sometimes, dozens of dictionaries still aren’t enough. Consider creating words. Every word in current usage started as someone’s creation!


I found an entertaining old (1985) book, edited by Clifton FadimanThe Little, Brown Book of Anecdotes covers a range of people, periodicals, radio and TV programs, centuries, and topics from Abolitionists to Zoos. 

I’ve chosen several anecdotes about famous people, writers, and writing for your pleasure, oldies but goodies.

Johnny Carson (1925-2005), host of the Tonight Show on TV

When Carson was signed to host the Tonight Show, he was so plagued by reporters that he compiled a list of 10 answers, which he handed out and invited journalists to provide the questions.

  1. Yes, I did.
  2. Not a bit of truth in that.
  3. Only twice in my life, both times on Saturday.
  4. I can do either, but I prefer the first.
  5. No. Kumquats.
  6. I can’t answer that question.
  7. Toads and tarantulas.
  8. Turkestan, Denmark, Chile, and the Komandorskie Islands.
  9. As often as possible, but I’m not very good at it yet. I need much more practice.
  10. It happened to some old friends of mine, and it’s a story I’ll never forget. 

(I found no record of a journalist actually doing that, but there’s nothing to stop you from doing it. And the interviewee needn’t be Johnny Carson!)

Jimmy Carter (1924-    ) no intro needed

Given Carter’s devout Southern Baptist background, reporters often asked him about his stance on moral issues.

When one asked, “How would you feel if you were told that your daughter was having an affair?”

Carter replied, “Shocked and overwhelmed, but then she’s only seven years old.”

(Note to writers: do a little research!)

Maria Feodorovna (Мария Фёдоровна) (1847-1928) empress of Russia as the wife of Czar Alexander III, daughter of King Christian IX of Denmark

She was known throughout Russia for her philanthropy. She once saved a prisoner from transportation to Siberia by transposing a single comma in a warrant signed by Alexander.

The czar had written, “Pardon impossible, to be sent to Siberia.”

Maria’s altered version: “Pardon, impossible to be sent to Siberia. 

(Modern variation: Let’s eat, grandma.)

Lascelles Abercrombie (1881-1938), British poet and critic

Abercrombie had expressed an opinion with which poet Ezra Pound violently disagreed.  “Dear Mr. Abercrombie,” wrote Pound.  “Stupidity carried beyond a certain point becomes a public menace. I hereby challenge you to a duel, to be fought at the earliest moment that is suited to your convenience….”

Abercrombie was distressed by the challenge, knowing of Pound’s skill at fencing. He was relieved to remember that as the one challenged, he had the choice of weapons. “May I suggest,” he replied, “that we bombard each other with unsold copies of our own books.”

Pound, having far more “weapons” than Abercrombie immediately withdrew the challenge. 

(I’m pretty weaponized right now, having just received a crate of Virginia Is For Mysteries, Volume III, launched 2/27/22.)

Dorothy Parker (1893-1967), short-story writer and wit

She once attended a party with Somerset Maugham, where the guests challenged each other to complete nursery rhymes. Maugham gave Parker the lines: “Higgledy piggledy, my white hen/ She lays eggs for gentlemen.”

Parker completed it with, “You cannot persuade her with gun or lariat/ To come across for the proletariate.”

(My personal favorite Parker quip is her response when asked to use the word “horticulture” in a sentence. She said, “You can lead a horticulture but you cannot make her think.”)

William Faulkner (1897-1962) winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1949

Faulkner was on a shooting expedition with director Howard Hawks and actor Clark Gable. In the course of conversation, Gable asked Faulkner to name the five best authors of the day.

Faulkner said, “Ernest Hemingway, Willa Cather, Thomas Mann, John Dos Passos, and myself.” 

“Oh,” said Gable (maliciously?), “do you write for a living?” 

“Yes,” replied Faulkner, “and what do you do?”

Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961, by suicide), winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, 1954 

Faulkner said that Hemingway had no courage, that “he has never been known to use a word that might send the reader to the dictionary.”

When Hemingway heard that, he said, “Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use.”

(In case you hadn’t realized it, perceiving a piece of writing as writing is a matter of personal taste.)

Abraham Lincoln (1805-1865), again, no intro needed

As a lawyer, Lincoln discouraged unnecessary litigation. When a man came to him to bring suit for $2.50 against an impoverished debtor, Lincoln tried to dissuade the man. But the man was determined to get revenged would not be talked out of it. Lincoln charged $10 for his service, gave half to the defendant who admitted the debt and paid the plaintiff $2.50.

(The plaintiff was reported to be entirely satisfied. What might a writer make of a character with more money than compassion?)

Edith Sitwell (1887-1964), poet and Dame of the British Empire

When Sitwell told her family that she was leaving the family home, she said “I can write so much better when I’m alone.”

Her father said, “And you prefer poetry to human love?”

Her reply? “As a profession, yes.”

Bottom Line: When you’re at a loss for words, look to the masters!