October 2008 Archives

nibling, niephling, niefling, etc

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In honor of my new niephling Avery:

A few years back, Arthur E introduced me to the word "niephling," a gender-neutral word for nieces and nephews. Most useful when the niephling-to-be's gender is unknown, or (in plural) when referring to a set of nieces and nephews collectively.

The other day, Karen H used the word "nibling," which I had never heard before. Apparently (according to that Wiktionary entry) coined by analogy with "sibling." Which seems mildly odd to me; if I'd coined the word, I might've tried to come up with something similar to "cousin," 'cause to me the idea of nieces and nephews is more like the idea of cousins than like the idea of siblings. Then again, I quite like the word "nibling" regardless of its derivation, and "nousin" just doesn't have the same ring to it.

(After casting about for other gender-neutral close-kinship terms, I noticed "parent," and momentarily thought that perhaps uncles and aunts should be collectively referred to as "aurents." Which is further evidence, if any were needed, that I shouldn't be left in charge of coining words.)

Wiktionary's first cite of "nibling" dates to 1989 (in a university-press book), but several recent cites in Wiktionary, as well as various Google search results for [nibling], suggest to me that the word may be catching on.

The word "niephling," sadly, does not seem to be catching on. It appears on only half a dozen web pages. A couple of different people have apparently coined it independently; I'll have to ask Arthur whether he did so as well, or whether he got it from someone else.

An alternative spelling, niefling, is in slightly wider use. And a Salon commenter a few years ago introduced a sort of hybrid of all these term: niebling. I kinda like that word, but it would make me want to hide my rings from any niebling who visited.

Anyway, I think I'll stick with "niephling" for the time being, but if "nibling" continues to catch on, I may switch. The latter is certainly easier to spell, and it has a more affectionate sound to it (to my ear), more suitable (than "niephling") for saying to one's infant niblings.

Online Encore

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Are y'all familiar with the game "Encore"? There's a boardgame version of it, but I first encountered it as a parlor game (not sure which version came first), in which one person suggests a word and other people try to come up with a song whose lyrics contain that word.

But just thinking of the song isn't enough; for it to count, someone has to be able to sing at least eight consecutive words of the song, including the specified word.

Depending on how you're playing, players can take turns trying to come up with more songs that contain the given word, until nobody can think of any more. To make it more challenging, you can set a time limit. In the boardgame, for example, players are divided into two teams, and after being assigned a word (from a deck of cards), the teams take turns coming up with songs for that word; the first team that can't come up with a song within 30 seconds loses that round.

The game can be fun and challenging even with pretty common words--it can be hard to mentally search through the songs you know to find one that contains the given word, and it's harder to do so within a time limit, and then you have to remember enough of the lyrics to count, and you have to sing them. And then you (or others, depending on what rules you're using) have to keep doing that, coming up with different songs with the same word.

But one of the things that appeals to me most about the game in the abstract (though this makes it a rather different game, and probably less fun to play in person) is coming up with words that don't appear in very many songs--possibly even a word that's a hapax legomenon within the space of all song lyrics. I mean, okay, there are really an awful lot of songs, so the chances of a given word appearing in only one are very low. But when I hear a particularly unusual word in a song, I often think "That would be a good Encore word."

As noted above, this version of the game would probably be no fun in person. It essentially amounts to "I've got a song in mind; guess what it is!" There would be long pauses while everyone thought; it would become a game of silence rather than of song.

But I think it might be fun in an online version, where there's no time limit. If it helps, think of this as a puzzle rather than as a game.


So: For each of the below-listed words, come up with a song whose lyrics contain the word.

As with Encore, for it to count, you have to be able to sing eight consecutive words of the song (including the specified word). The singing part is on the honor system; we won't know whether you have the tune right, but as you type the words into a comment, try singing them to yourself.

Also, at least one other player has to be familiar with the song for it to count.

No using Google, your music library, or other aide-mémoire.

And no cheating, unless it will make the game more fun for everyone. (For example, if you want to write a song that uses these words, you can break the "one other player has to know it" rule. But if you're gonna do that, try to use at least two of the words, and do tell us that the song is by you. And come up with a tune for it; I don't think it counts if you just use the words in a poem.)

Note that I have a specific song in mind for each of these, but I imagine that there's more than one song for most of them; any song that contains the word counts. Which is good, because some of the songs I have in mind are fairly obscure. Though I'm pretty sure that for each song, at least one of my regular readers knows the song.

Added later: I've adopted a variation of Vardibidian's notation system: boldface for words nobody's found yet; strikethrough for words where someone's come up with the same song I was thinking of; italics for words where someone's come up with a different song; italic strikethrough when both my song and another song have been found.

  • adorn
  • blazing
  • cellar
  • defied
  • embers
  • frequently
  • gavel
  • happens
  • incidents
  • judgment
  • kangaroo
  • longitudes
  • monarch
  • NYPD
  • observe
  • perpendicular
  • quarter
  • resist
  • sacrificial
  • tranquility
  • unexpectedly
  • vittles
  • whom
  • XII (yes, this one's silly, but the other X words I came up with were worse)
  • yawning
  • zombie

There were a bunch of great words I had to leave out in order to end up with an alphabet. My favorite of those was probably "antepenultimate," from the Flanders & Swann song "Have Some Madeira, M'Dear"; I left that out because I don't know the song well enough myself to be able to sing eight consecutive words including that one.

I was also sad to leave out "petrochemical," but "perpendicular" was too good to pass up (and the song I had in mind for the latter is probably better-known than the song for the former).

I should note that you of course don't have to answer all of these at once. Anytime you think of a song for one of them, go ahead and post a comment.

Also, feel free to post other words to challenge others. I recommend that you try for unusual words (ideally two or more syllables apiece).

Oh, and to prevent the comment thread from becoming unmanageable, after three or four people have come up with songs for a given word, please don't post any more on that word unless you've thought of something too good to pass up.

One thing I considered when I was coming up with this list was trying to use only songs that matched a theme. It became clear that that was going to take too much time, so I gave up, but in case anyone else wants to try, you don't have to do a full alphabet of words. You could do a group of five that start with the same unusual letter, for example. Or a set of words that are all place names, or all people names, or all math/science terms, or all verbs. Or a set of songs that are all Christmas songs, or all musicals, or all songs by the same person or people. And so on.

All of those things, of course, tend to make this more puzzle-like and less game-like; it becomes more a matter of finding The Right Answer and less of coming up with a multitude of different answers. But puzzles are fun, too.

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