Daily Archives: March 30, 2015


Kathryn Schulz, @kathrynschulz, tweeted on March 10, “Making up a word because I need it: lapsonym — a word whose meaning you forget no matter how many times you look it up.” She added that her lapsonym is nugatory. It is amusingly ironic that one of the meanings of nugatory is ‘useless, futile’. (The more common meaning, inasmuch as there is one, is ‘of little or no value or importance; trifling’ – and this is how I remember it: nugatory sounds like nougat, which, like trifle, is a dessert – but it’s a rather little one generally, just a nugget. Don’t confuse it with negatory, which is army jargon for ‘no’.)

Is the word well formed?

Well, we know that the -onym is an acceptable and productive combining form for a word, as in eponym, toponym, pseudonym, synonym, antonym, and so on. It has the same Greek root ὄνομα as onomastics and traces to a Proto-Indo-European root *nomn-, which has descendants in pretty much every Indo-European language, from Gaelic ainm to Czech jméno and, of course, all those words that sound more or less like name.

And the lapso- part? I will not make irrelevant mention of Lhasa apso, a breed of dog. No, lapso- is from the Latin noun lapsus, ‘slip, fall’, which shows up in lapse, as in mental lapse. If a word keeps slipping your mind, then of course it’s a lapsonym. Do you object to mixing Latin and Greek? It’s actually quite common in English; such words may be called macaronic, though they make me think as much of mixing meats in meatballs, which can produce very good results. (Also, macaroni these days in Anglo culture doesn’t have a huge mix of different ingredients, as it did in an earlier time and place.)

So this is a word that seems intuitively as well as etymologically to match its sense reasonably well, and it’s a word that’s been needed. (There’s a word for ‘a word that’s been needed’ – I’m trying to remember what it is. Speaking of which, we also need a word for a word you can remember the meaning of but can’t remember the actual word for. I hereby appoint myself neologist for that: I dub it lethonym, from the Greek root λήθη ‘forgetfulness’. Schulz has also invented one for a word that you can’t remember how to spell: orthonym. I think its etymological appropriateness is less secure; it seems to be a clipping from orthography, but ortho– normally means ‘right, correct’.)

And what is my personal lapsonym? My personal lapsonym is also, at least at this moment, a lethonym. That is to say, I am with @JosephHucks, who replied to Kathryn Schulz, “I can’t remember mine.”