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'Word Fugitives:' In Pursuit of Wanted Words

You know the feeling: You notice some everyday phenomenon -- something that always happens -- and search for the word that defines it. Only to realize -- no such word exists.

Word maven Barbara Wallraff rustles up what she calls these "word fugitives" in her column in the The Atlantic Monthly, and in a new book, Word Fugitives. Her readers supply both their ideas for word fugitives -- and the words sought.

"I really like word fugitives that relate to people's everyday lives," Wallraff says. "There are a lot of technological fugitives. We have names for the things, but now we need words for what we do with them."

Reader Allan Crossman, of Oakland, Calif., asked: "I'm looking for a term that describes the momentary confusion experienced by everyone in the vicinity when a cell phone rings and no one is sure if it is his/hers or not."

Wallraff say that with ring tones, "you'd think that that would be history even by now. But no, people still experience 'pandephonium.'" Or is it ringchronicity, ringxiety -- or even fauxcellarm?

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

As special correspondent and guest host of NPR's news programs, Melissa Block brings her signature combination of warmth and incisive reporting. Her work over the decades has earned her journalism's highest honors, and has made her one of NPR's most familiar and beloved voices.