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New Automotive Dictionary

I got to suckle at the thesaurus, discovering new words that would make me sound smart

By Novella Carpenter

How did my novel turn out? Thanks for asking. To be honest, it became a story bogged down by too many characters, a desperate plot twist involving worshippers of Satan and a general lack of good ideas. If a reviewer were to get a hold of a copy, I do believe he'd hail it as an "unreadable combination of Anne Rice written while watching Geraldo and listening to the Cure."

But I still love National Novel Writing Month, because I learned a lot about plot, how difficult it is to write 2,000 words a day, and of course, I got to suckle at the thesaurus, discovering new words that would make me sound smart. Because I was always at the computer, one of my favorites sources for words came from a website, Word-A-Day (www.wordsmith.org), which gave me sylph, entelechy and veridical. I also stumbled upon Word Spy, an Internet dictionary located at www.wordspy.com. There I learned the word "furkid," a noun that describes a pet that fills in for the owner's need or desire to have human children. Of course, Word Spy has a bunch of automotive-related words, too; what postmodern, constantly updated Internet dictionary wouldn't?

Check out half-g car, for example. "A car rented to a drug dealer in return for a half-gram of crack cocaine." Bet you'd never heard of that.

All the words on Word Spy have appeared in the press in some form or another. Several of the words I was glad to see because they finally gave a word and definition for a behavior or phenomenon I had observed. Carcooning: using one's car for working, playing, eating, grooming and other tasks normally performed at home or at the office. I wrote a column about this very activity last year! It was first used, according to Word Spy, by Phil Rosenthal in the Los Angeles Daily News in 1989.

Or the word crocodiling, a noun that defines the process that causes cracks to appear in road pavement. Used by traffic engineers for years, the word is now in the popular lexicon. Another highway engineer word that I never knew existed: you know when you're driving down the highway, and you veer just a little bit off the road and your car becomes a sonic chamber of rattling? Those are rumble strips: "Grooves etched into a highway surface and designed to emit a loud rumble when a car drives over them." Not, as I've been defining it, "the most annoying thing on Earth."

You've heard of air guitar, but what about the dashboard drum? Word Spy's creator Paul McFedries tells us, "I suspect drivers have been tapping out rhythms on their dashboards and other resonant car parts since the first car radios were installed. I also suspect that more than a few people coined the attractively alliterative phrase dashboard drum (or dashboard drumming) over the years. However, the earliest citation I could find was a reference to the liner notes of an album called Sacred Cow that was released in 1996 by the band Geggy Tah." A true lexpionage agent, Paul is.

As in any dictionary involving slang, there were some stinker words. Like vehicularly housed, an adjective that describes a homeless person who lives in a car. Why make something sound so complicated? I also hated the entry sleeping policeman, supposedly a synonym for speed bump. Too many syllables.

The good definitely outweigh the bad, though. Here are a few more good ones:

Garage Mahal (n.) A large or opulent garage or parking structure.

Slugging (n.) Commuting to work by accepting a ride from a stranger who requires one or more extra passengers to legally qualify to drive in a high occupancy vehicle lane. (Slug (n.) A person who commutes in this way.)

Volvoid (n.) A white, moderately affluent, suburban professional who is politically liberal.

Bear jam (n.) A traffic jam in a park caused by motorists stopping to watch bears.


Got any newfangled car words? Email them to novellacarpenter@yahoo.com.,hr>

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From the December 1-8, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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