Thursday, September 26, 2013
After Liff, the New Dictionary of Things There Should be Words - review by Gordon McLauchlan
After Liff, the New Dictionary of Things There Should be Words For by John Lloyd and Jon Canter (Faber and Faber) is a sequel to a successful 1983 book, The Meaning of Liff by John Lloyd and Douglas Adams.
Adams’s sadly abbreviated life ended in 2001 (he was 49). His biggest hit was The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy, an international best-seller which began as a BBC radio comedy. Lloyd, too, established a career in comedy before the first Liff, with Not the Nine O’Clock News, Blackadder among others.
Adams has been replaced in this mock lexicographic enterprise by Canter, writer for Dawn French, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie and Mr Bean.
So here we have a book that is talent-driven providing make-up words for things and situations for which there is currently no provision. They are neologisms designed to amuse and not really to be snapped up by the rest of us in a bid to enrich the language. In fact, the success rate for people setting out to make up words for popular currency is exceedingly low.
One of the few people effective at coining neologisms that caught on was Thomas Jefferson who, according to The American Scholar, first used neologise, indescribable, electioneer and belittle. And after an attack by a British critic for what he regarded as the meaningless of belittle, Jefferson revealed a stabbing sense of humour by inventing Anglophobia.
Some of the words in After Liff have potential. For example: boloquoy (rambling monologue cursing yourself the morning after behaving badly); chertsy (to greet someone by half-rising from your seat); ‘fentral’ ( a long way from anywhere); meigle (to endlessly bring the conversation back to oneself); wharfe (loud conversation between two successful businessmen to let you know you are overhearing successful businessmen).
What they haven’t got, even in jest, and didn’t have in the first book (unless I missed it) is an androgynous substitute for man, he and his to represent all mankind (including womankind). Since feminists quite rightly rebelled against the traditional use in which women were presumed not to matter enough, a gap has opened up in the language which has never been filled. An appropriate word would be invaluable to writers but no one seems intent on providing it even in jest. A brief, blunt Anglo-Saxon sort of word would be best.
By the way, a joke may well coin a word that wins its way permanently into the language. A website pioneering programmer called Paul Niquette coined software, an antonym to hardware, as a joke among his colleagues. He never used it officially because he thought it suitable for idle banter and not for formal use. How wrong he was.
So maybe something from After Liffe will catch on. I know a lot of people inclined to meigle.
Gordon McLauchlan (left) is an Auckland-based writer &; commentator and a regular reviewer on this blog.