Word of the Month: Sniglet

David Zapatka

Thirteen months ago, we went off the beaten path of dictionary words when reader Debbie M. wrote, “Hello, I enjoy your column and want to offer a suggestion. ‘Orbisculate’ is a word not yet in the dictionary. I think we should help the young people who are trying to get this word into the dictionary to honor their father. Their complete story can be found at orbisculate.com. We should help them. It’s a great word.” Although “orbisculate” is not yet a dictionary word, I have confidence it will be someday thanks in part to our 50,000+ Robson Communities circulation.

This month’s column is also about a word that is not in the dictionary. You may have heard it because it is in circulation. Maybe it will one day grow up into a word. That word is “sniglet.” “Sniglet” is an often-humorous word made up to describe something for which no dictionary word exists. Yes, “sniglet” is itself a “sniglet.” Introduced in the 1980s TV comedy series Not Necessarily the News, sniglets were generated and published in significant numbers, along with submissions by fans, in several books by Rich Hall, beginning with his Sniglets, Sniglets for Kids, and More Sniglets in the mid-1980s. Each monthly episode featured a regular segment on “sniglets,” which Hall described as “any word that doesn’t appear in the dictionary, but should.”

Sniglets” are also promoted by the greatest “verbivore,” (one of my favorite “sniglets”) of our time, Richard Lederer. If you listen to National Public Radio or attend the American Mensa Annual Gatherings, you may be familiar with Mr. Lederer as he is a regular on NPR and at the AGs. His comedy is addictive and can easily bring laughing tears to your eyes. Here’s a flavor of some of his “sniglets.”

Elecelleration—the mistaken notion that the more times you press the elevator button, the faster it will come.

Carpepetuation—the act when vacuuming, of running over a piece of string or piece of lint at least a dozen times, reaching down and picking it up, examining it, then putting it back down to give the vacuum cleaner one more chance.

Choconivorous—the tendency, when eating a chocolate Easter bunny, to bite off the head first.

There’s even a board game called Game of Sniglets where players try to identify the “official” “sniglet” from among a list that includes “sniglets” fellow participants create to go along with a provided definition. Players earn points by either guessing which word is the “official” “sniglet,” or by having their word chosen as the best candidate. The points earned determine how many spaces players can advance on the game board. The game instructions offer suggestions for creating a new “sniglet,” such as combining or blending words; changing the spelling of a word related to the definition or creating new, purely nonsensical words. Sound like fun?

Please submit your favorite sniglets or any word you may like to share along with your insights and comments to [email protected].