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The Quest to Add Orbisculate to the Dictionary

What is the difference between a real word and a made-up word? OK, admittedly all words are made-up. We should probably ask what it takes to transform a newly manufactured word into one that shows up in dictionaries.

The answer is usage. Once upon a time, someone reacted to some disgusting thing (we suspect it was the first time anyone put pineapple on pizza) and said, “Yuck!” At that point, the word was a freak of nature and had no recognition apart from the first person who uttered it. Someone else must have heard that person use the word, however, and thought it was a good thing to say in the presence of something gross and disgusting. (We like to think it happened at a Walmart upon seeing a 300-pound male customer dressed in a form-fitting tanktop that revealed more back hair than a fully-mature gorilla.) As more and more people incorporated the word into their vocabulary, it earned its way into the English lexicon.

Most of the time, words develop into common usage by accident. It doesn’t have to be that way, though. If you want to make it your mission in life to elevate a word to lexicon-level status, you have every right to try. You may find your task easier if you can provide a word to describe something when no other word works.

Consider, for example, the experience of digging into a grapefruit and getting squirted in the eye by an eruption of grapefruit juice. If you have ever eaten a grapefruit, you probably know what we’re talking about. What do you call that phenomenon? How about “orbisculate”? It’s as good of a word as any, but you won’t find it in the dictionary.

That will change, however, if one family has its way. Neil Krieger invented orbisculate” when he was a student in college. He used it throughout the rest of his life so often that his family assumed it was a commonly-accepted word. They were shocked (and lost a $5 bet) when they learned they were the only ones who used the term.

Neil Krieger passed away in April 2020. To honor his memory, his family launched a campaign to make “orbisculate” so common that it will earn a place on the pages of the dictionary. They also want to get their $5 back.

The details of the campaign can be found on their website, including the ways you can do your part. The biggest thing you can do is to use “orbisculate” today in casual conversation, email, or social media.

Once this campaign has succeeded, we plan on tackling the next badly-needed word that describes the state of delusion of those who think that pineapple and pizza belong in proximity to each other. Nominations for the word are now being accepted.


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