Saturday, March 9, 2013

Unword of the Day: “Oahspe”

Nonono -- that sublexemic vocable is not worth knowing.  But the matrix in which it is embedded  might marginally be.

I just now met it in an essay of the same name, by the eka-multi-polymath, Mr. Martin Gardner (originally published 1996, and reprinted in Are Universes Thicker than Blackberries, 2003).   It’s the etiquette of yet another gormless cult (nothing so dumb but that some fool will fall for it [**]);  but the nice thing is, Gardner gives both pronunciation and etymology:

The “O” means earth, “ah” means air, and “spe” means spirit.  The word is pronounced to imitate the sound of wind as it passes through trees …

[**]  In such cults, outlandish neologizing is virtually a mania.  Oahspe whelped a whole extraterrestrial mythology, reminiscent of the one that founded… well, a certain litigious institution which, for prudence, we shall not name, but whose first syllable is homophonous to that in the word psychotic, and which rhymes with necrology.
(The man is amazing.   I was reading his stuff  while still a little boy, in my dad’s subscription to Scientific American, for which he wrote the monthly math column.  Since then he just kept getting older and older, yet writing and writing, with never a false note.)
[Note:  When I was Pronunciation Editor at Merriam-Webster dictionaries, they did not permit us to use such excellent orthoepic directions as "imitate the sound of wind as it passes through trees";  more's the pity.]

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One further term, from this cleidoic milieu:

Oahspe divides all living humans  into two classes.  Those who accept the new revelation are the Faithists.  Outsiders who are not Faithists  are called Uzians.

The word Uzian thus joins a long line of parochial-sectarian terms for those who are Not Of Our Tribe, such as gentiles, laity/laymen, civilians, and (most recently and charmingly) muggles.

[Philologic footnote]  That new term, unword, freshly coined from the celebrated World of Dr Justice wordmint, is itself a non-word, in the sense of not being (yet) found in any dictionary;  but not, for all that, an unword (that is to say:  the word unword is heterological).   We coined unword on the model of such German terms as Untier ‘monster, vermin’ (where Tier just means ‘animal’) and  Unding  ‘something outrageous and preposterous’ (literally, ‘an un-thing’):  Unwort, as it were.  .  Thus, an unword is an ungainly conglomeration of noises (in the case of Oahspe, pronounced like wind from the anus) with no decent meaning -- nothing that deserves to take up a position in semantic space;  whereas the term unword itself is a useful coinage of our own invention.

[Update]   More egregious than inventing a new word, or a new movement with a passle of new vocabulary, is concocting an entire new artificial language.   Anyone interested in “Oahspe” will probably be interested in “Ithkuil” (and for the same wrong reasons):

Annals of Linguistics
Utopian for Beginners
An amateur linguist loses control of the language he invented.
by Joshua Foer

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