Slush has slushed slipperily, and even (or especially) for the fleet of foot the streets are fletiferous; the nimble and awkward alike are likely to become labant.

Labant? Is that something you could transcribe in Labanotation? Well, perhaps, if it’s choreographed. But more likely, on lubricated pavements, you will not be tripping the light fantastic, just tripping – slip-sliding away, slipping into something less comfortable: perhaps an esker of snirt, perhaps just the sidewalk muttering to itself in geological time about how hard it used to rock. You see, when you are labant, you are sliding, or falling down, or at least wavering or tottering.

And where does this word come from? The dictionary, of course. Now, most words can be found in dictionaries, but that doesn’t mean it’s where they’re from any more than the DMV office you happen to be lined up in to get your licence is where you’re from. But there is a special set of words that are conceived in dictionaries and live their whole lives there: born to be defined. Fletiferous is one such, and labant is another, both noted in the Oxford English Dictionary with this caveat: “Obsolete. rare. Apparently only attested in dictionaries or glossaries.”

Well, ya know, when we availed ourselves of the replete pantry of Latin roots, we just couldn’t resist confecting almost anything plausible, just so we would have a fancy word in a scholarly robe for something we previously had to speak of only in brutish Anglo-Saxon. In the case of labant, it’s coined from labare, ‘fall, slide’. But the chips will fall where they may, and for some words, whether they even totter briefly, they land squarely on the otiose side. The lexicographer has laboured in vain.

But all is vanity, and every word is a free coin you can use when speaking to God, yourself, and your cat, even if no one else. If you like labant, keep it. Add it to your slush fund.

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