Back in September, the New York Times carried a Page One piece about Lawrence Welk (1910-1989), the old master of champagne music. Welk's velvety arrangements, said the Times, "have outlasted the Twist, the New Look, the 1970s revival and the Macarena, to say nothing of the vogue for all things crunk."
For all things what? Crunk? It's a wunnerful word, but what does it mean? I learned from Google that "the lurching beats and bellowed choruses of Southern crunk have become 2004's defining pop sound." For example, "Lil Scrappy's Head Bussa is unadultered crunk." Now we know. In "crunk" we have what appears to be a neologism, that is, "a new word, usage or expression." (A neologism is also "a meaningless word coined by a psychotic," but let it go.)
Few aspects of lexicography are more fascinating than the discovery of new words that are intended, like "crunk," to be words in ordinary usage. Specialized vocabularies for medicine, law and the theater tend to stay put, but as new worlds open to exploration, vocabularies delightfully expand. The process has been going on since words began.
I had never met "yobbery" until I traveled in England last summer. The noun bobbed up in the Times of London in an article about rising rates of assault. It is "the poorest people who suffer most from mindless yobbery." A friend explained: A yob is a lout or hooligan; a rowdy, destructive youth; a ruffian.
The sleuths at Merriam-Webster date "yob" from 1908. The noun obviously is a backward spelling of "boy." It naturally has given birth to the adjective "yobbish," the adverb "yobbishly," and a clumsy alternative noun, "yobbishness." The derivative "yobbo" entered British slang in 1922. I have now told you more about "yobbery" than you really wanted to know, but no apologies. If you take an idle logomachist off his leash and let him roam the "y" section, he will trot back with "yabber" in his teeth. It is the language of certain Australian aborigines. The variant "yabby" is a burrowing crayfish. I digress.
One of the best restaurant critics in the business is Johnny Apple of the New York Times. In February he was in Puerto Rico, undergoing the hardships of the gourmet life. In San Juan, he and his wife, Betsey, found "a dish of uniquitously alluring banana-coconut ice cream with shaved chocolate." All of us - well, some of us - know about iniquitous allures, but only a Timesman will meet uniquitous ice cream.
Another Times writer (I have mislaid the byline) covered a highfalutin seminar on dirty movies. Some of the old footage from "Deep Throat" seemed "a little raisiny - shrunken and overly tanned." Do I hear a motion to admit "raisiny" to polite company? I see that "lemony" dates from 1859 and "limy" from 1552. A good role on stage was "plummy" as far back as 1759.
"Orangey" dates from 1778. Orangutans were identified as such in 1691. The name comes from the Malay orang (man) plus hutan (forest). You may use this conversation-starter at your next dinner party: "Did you know that the average orangutan is two-thirds the size of a gorilla?" This will not only start a conversation, it also will stop one.
What is a "bespoke suit"? Last month another Times critic, Michiko Kakutani, reviewed Michael Rips' autobiographical "Face of a Naked Lady." The author's father was "the well-to-do owner of an optical factory, an executive who wore bespoke suits and perfectly starched shirts." A bespoke suit is a tailor-made affair, custom-made. The adjective dates from 1607, the same year I landed at Jamestown, in a mail-order suit from Land's End.
Readers are invited to send dated citations of usage to James J. Kilpatrick in care of The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.