Bridezillas, Sci-Fi, and “-gate”

This past weekend, when some friends dropped by, conversation turned to a wedding in which one of the young ladies had been a bridesmaid the day before.  She apologized for being a bit short of sleep.  Apparently, the bride had wanted a say on every little detail – but had also left getting those details arranged until the last minute.

A Bridezilla

A Bridezilla

“Oh,” said another member of our little group sympathetically.  “A Bridezilla.”

Now, I believe that word has been popularized by a television show, but I’ll admit, not only did I immediately understand the term, I knew it would stick in my head because of its appropriateness.  An image of the Japanese movie monster Godzilla clad in a wedding gown, complete with train and veil, rampaged into my imagination.  Instead of roaring, I heard, the monster bellowing: “No!  You can’t wear your hair that way!  It will look all wrong!”  “No!  Hold the flowers like this!  Gracefully.  Don’t strangle them!”

Because I love words, I started thinking about why “Bridezilla” works so well.  I realized that sound is key.  Both “God” and “Bride” end in a strong “d” sound.  They are also single syllables, so although the words are not at all visually similar, they scan alike.

Now that “Bridezilla” has been popularized, “Groomzilla” also might enter the language, but it never could have done so on its own because, without the sound link, it is dependent on “Bridezilla” to “sound right.”

This got me thinking about how many neologisms (neo = new; logism from “logos” meaning “word”) depend on this sort of sound link to catch on and enter the general vocabulary for more than a very short time.

A term near and dear to our genre is “Sci-Fi.”  SF Fan lore credits the origin of this word to the late Forrest J Ackerman who deliberately coined it to echo another term popular at the time: “Hi-Fi” (short for “high fidelity,” which was the “high definition” of its day).

When I was getting more involved in the SF/F field back in the 1980’s, saying “Sci-Fi” rather than “SF” was considered just a little déclassé.  I have no idea if the same prejudice, especially with the popularity of the “SyFy” channel, still holds.

In a catalog, recently, I came across a listing for a “fandex.”  This was a collection of cards fastened together at the bottom, so that they could be consulted without the need to shuffle through the cards.  The source for this word was pretty obvious: fan + index, condensed into “fandex.”  Will the word gain ground and enter the general vocabulary?  Hard to say, but it does have the advantage of being neatly descriptive.

Sometimes, neologisms evolve to such an extent that the original source becomes lost.  The Watergate political scandal created a trend for dubbing first any political scandal, then any scandal at all, with a word ending in “gate.”  This trend seems to have finally fallen out of use (I hope?), possibly because the association became so attenuated with time that it lost its impact.  After all, the original Watergate was nothing more than a complex that combined residential apartments and the business offices where the break-in was committed.  Unlike the “ zilla” in “Bridezilla,” which alludes to a monster out of control and so has come to have a meaning of its own, “gate” doesn’t have the same associational impact.

For those of us who create imaginary worlds – and sometimes imaginary languages to go with them – what it takes to make a successful neologism is worth considering.  Even for those who don’t,  neologisms are just plain fun.

I hope you’ll share your favorite neologisms.  Let’s journey through the winding maze that is a living language!

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14 Responses to “Bridezillas, Sci-Fi, and “-gate””

  1. CBI Says:

    I don’t recollect if I’d heard the term “fandex” before, althought I’ve seen two types of index-card holding arrangements for years: one in which the lower-left corners were fastened together, and cards examined by rotating the top card clockwise, and one in which the bottoms were fastened with loops, and the cards examined by rotating the top one down and around to the back.

    The real question: is the plural “fandexes” or “fandices”?

    I suppose that the -gate suffix is just getting overwhelmed by events, as Chicago-style politics become Standard Operating Procedure in DC. “Watergate” worked as a metonym because it was a single, amplified, event. The -gate suffix might work occasionally, but after Benghazi-gate, IRS-gate, Solyndra-gate, EPA-gate, Fast-and-Furious-gate, /ad infinitum/, one becomes deafened — or at least inured — and the suffix lacks the punch it may have once had.

    Some neologisms that seem to have entered the language:
    – to google (something)
    – metrosexual
    – app (computer application)
    – to astroturf (external funding of a political movement pretending to be locally based, e.g., “Occupy Wall Street”)
    – spam (email)

    So, do I enjoy neologisms? Absotively and posilutely!

  2. Louis Robinson Says:

    I’m blanking on examples right now, but I’ve discovered through conversation with my kids that a lot of neologisms arise, or at least become current, because they simply don’t know the perfectly good word that’s been in the OED for generations. Examination of said perfectly good words indicates that there was often already a perfectly good word in English when _they_ were invented or borrowed. Once to every generation comes the need to say things that for some reason they think have never been said before 🙂

  3. Heteromeles Says:

    Um, the Internet? Blogging? Neologisms?

    As the radio show A Way With Words pointed out, a log was a book originally devoted to calculating the speed of windjammers using a chip-log and a knotted rope. Log-books became generalized to logs, and the term weblog (blog) ultimately comes from a piece of wood tossed over the side.

  4. Nicholas Wells Says:

    Heh, X-gate (x being the specific scandal) is far from dead. What was it, two, three years ago? The New England Patriots were accused of recording team practices. It was termed “Spy-gate”, and is still referred to by that name even today.

    Though on this same line, here’s a thought; Very few if any phones have bells anymore. Yet we still say a phone “rings”, even though it doesn’t. I wonder how many current terms will be like that, and will endure even after it’s not quite accurate.

    Would Commander Data still “google” something?

    • Louis Robinson Says:

      Phones continue to have ringers, long after the ringer was no longer built with a bell – and to this day the phone system transmits a ringing current to trigger them. Which is why your phone still rings 🙂

    • Heteromeles Says:

      If you wonder about why phones still ring, ask yourself why you’re (most likely) typing this on a QWERTY keyboard. Even more amazingly, iPhones use QWERTY. It’s a true Panda’s Thumb of technology as Stephen Jay Gould noted many years ago.

  5. Peter Says:

    A lot of neologisms arise out of the combination of three linguistic rules – clipping (or abbreviation), blending (combining the significant parts of existing words) and re-analysis (which is basically blending in reverse – looking at an existing word and deciding which parts are “significant” retroactively, usually without consideration for the word’s original meaning. Re-analysis is often used in blending to make new words. More on this in a bit.)

    Logbook is a perfect example of blending – it combines the significant parts of two words (log and book). It then becomes clipped to the shorter “log”, which later becomes blended with web to make “weblog”, which then gets clipped to “blog”.

    The classic example of re-analysis, used in pretty much every first-year Linguistics class, is “-burger”. -burger is used in a lot of blends – cheeseburger, veggieburger, chickenburger, etc. – as the “significant part” of hamburger, as if “hamburger” were a blend of the words “ham” and “burger” (which would make perfect sense if hamburgers actually contained any ham). This is the same process that leads to -gate (Watergate was not a scandal involving water rights) and -zilla (Godzilla is not the deity of zillas).

    • Louis Robinson Says:

      I suspect that your example of re-analysis needs re-analysis. I know i was ordering a burger-and-fries several decades before it ever crossed anybody’s mind that making the patty from anything _other_ than cow was even thinkable, let alone likely to make money.

      The pre-clipped ‘burger’ is as likely to be the root as the full hamburger. Just not as well documented.

      • Peter Says:

        Well, “burger” is a clipped version of hamburger, yes (and hamburger, like frankfurter and wiener is named after a German city). You can see the reanalysis more clearly in something like “cheeseburger” (which predates, say, burgers made from ham).

      • Louis Robinson Says:

        Far be it from me to argue with someone within his field [yeah, right ;)].

        Actually, this is getting interesting, as a relatively simple example of evolution in action. I _think_ that I saw the form ‘cheese burger’ on menus, a long time ago in a city not so far away. That, however, isn’t proof that cheeseburger formed by clipping hamburger and then hanging cheese on the front of it by elision. Even if I’m remembering correctly, the current usage could have developed some other place via reverse analysis and then become general because that place is more influential in such matters.

  6. Chad Merkley Says:

    Sometimes it’s interesting to realize just how recently words have entered our language. For example, I have a book, published in 1901, about the Belgian Antarctic Expedition that spent an entire winter in Antarctica. The author was the expedition’s doctor, an American (Frederick Cook–he had a less than sterling career after this). But he, or his editors, thought is necessary to italicize the noun skis as a foreign word. I don’t recall noticing it used as a verb. But the expedition (which incidentally included Roald Amundsen) made extensive use of skis.

    So, the introduction of a Scandinavian technology to Americans meant the adoption a new noun. The noun then got turned into a verb, and has become a completely ordinary part of our language and culture. There’s probably hundreds or thousands of examples of this in English that we never think about.

    While this isn’t actually a neologism, but a borrowing, it was odd enough to briefly throw me out of the narrative.

    • Heteromeles Says:

      Ah yes, English, that great composter of immigrants’ linguistic diversity.

      I believe Mark Twain called skis Scandanavian snowshoes, based on the crazy-long skis that early immigrants used in the Sierras (and which at least one game warden still uses to catch poachers, although that’s another story).

      One question of interest is when the English-speaking intelligentsia switched from coining neologisms out of Greek and Latin roots, and started using English as the primary source of compounding forms. Internet and Cybperspace still have Latin and Greek prefixes, but Facebook is 100% English, as is (perhaps) the blogosphere.

  7. Paul Says:

    Phones that don’t ring are like record shops that no longer sell records. SF fandom is full of these invented word hybrids: fanzine, filk-singing, gafiate, etc. Then there are word combinations memorable mainly because they seem to be contrasts (Desperate Housewives, Buffy the Vampire Slayer…)

  8. janelindskold Says:

    Thanks for the tales through the word maze… One that hit me when I was writing this was how the word “brainstorm” has evolved from a word that originally meant a sort of nervous breakdown (storm in the brain) to a collaborative creative process!

    The logos ain’t neo, but the way it is commonly used currently is!

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