Daily Archives: October 8, 2013

dewildered, smartfounded

Today, watching Toronto city council in action and live-tweeting it, @cityslikr tweeted, “Crowdsource: We need a word that describes being surprised but not being at all surprised. Anyone? Everyone?”

Several people made suggestions, most of them portmanteau words and the remainder based on humorous reanalyses. My first effort was subprised, which I wasn’t altogether satisfied with. Surprise is actually formed from Latin parts meaning ‘overtake’; replace the sur with sub and you get parts meaning ‘undertake’ – but in this case the sense seems really more like ‘underwhelmed’. But that’s not what @cityslikr had in mind.

I knew just what was intended. I’m sure you know too. The city hall instance that provoked the question was not likely a pleasant surprise, but the same word could serve equally well for a pleasant one. I think of the time when a very capable, intelligent, calm, steady, and devout young woman who had been one of the leading lights in the production department where I work (she programmed websites) announced she was resigning to pursue a life as a nun. It was (for me) quite unexpected, and yet at the same time it made perfect sense for her. It was not astonishing at all, simply unforeseen and rather momentous. (She is, incidentally, progressing well in her path to her chosen vocation. It happens that convents need webmasters too, for one thing.)

One suggested word that seems to have gotten at least a little traction was from @squideye: mehbergasted, a blend of flabbergasted with meh. But to my mind the not-at-all-surprised part is not necessarily a “meh” – that’s a dismissal born of disinterest and uninterest and boredom. I think what we need here is more in the line of a “Well, whaddya know… of course.” Or, for Toronto city council, perhaps “Good grief! And of course. Sigh.”

One I particularly liked was from @MayorNPhillips (an account named after a now-deceased mayor after whom the plaza in front of Toronto city hall is named): dewildered. A lovely construction: a simple change of articulation from lips to tongue in the opening consonant, and a flipping of the letter b to d, and the engaging be becomes the disengaging de. The wilder is the same one as in wilderness; if you are bewildered you are left in the wilds – a landlubberish version of all at sea. Dewildered would be expected to be a reversal of that, which is certainly not what is intended; this is not an anagnorisis or de-astonishment. But it still has a certain nice something to it. And clever words often go elsewhere than expected.

I made a second effort that I like better than my first: smartfounded. This is patently jokey; the dumb in dumbfounded refers to muteness, not unintelligence. That word is actually already a portmanteau word – it grafts dumb onto confounded. This replacement of that part with another plays a false reversal and at the same time has smart that can signify the awareness, the not-at-all-surprisedness.

None of these is quite perfect, though. In earlier times, of course, some confection of Greek and/or Latin parts would have been made, perhaps something like the breathtaking ugly triskaidekaphobia (‘three and ten fear’ for a phobia focusing on the number 13). One possibility here would be something like isoecstasis. But that is not a fun word, nor, at present, anything other than an opaque tangle of letters for most people.

I think this question needs more thought. And suggestions.