A sniglet (//) is an often humorous word made up to describe something for which no dictionary word exists. Introduced in the 1980s TV comedy series Not Necessarily the News, sniglets were generated and published in significant number, along with submissions by fans, in several books by Rich Hall, beginning with his Sniglets, Sniglets for Kids, and More Sniglets in the mid-1980s.
Development by Rich Hall
The term sniglet was conceived by comedian Rich Hall during his tenure on the 1980s HBO comedy series Not Necessarily the News. Each monthly episode features a regular segment on sniglets, which Hall described as "any word that doesn't appear in the dictionary, but should". In 1984, a collection of sniglets was published by Hall, titled Sniglets (snig' lit: any word that doesn't appear in the dictionary, but should). This was followed by a "daily comic panel" in newspapers, four more books, a game, and a calendar. Many sniglets are portmanteau words, a comedic style often traced to Lewis Carroll.
The Hall books have their entries arranged in alphabetical order like a dictionary, with information on how to pronounce the word, followed by a definition, and sometimes accompanied by an illustration. The original book has two appendices, "Anatomical Sniglets" and "Extra Added Bonus Section for Poets", and More Sniglets includes an "Audio-Visual Sniglets" section. All five books included an "Official Sniglets Entry Blank", beginning, "Dear Rich: Here's my sniglet, which is every bit as clever as any in this dictionary."
The Game of Sniglets is a board game in which players tried to identify the "official" sniglet from among a list that also included sniglets that fellow participants had created to go along with a provided definition. Players earn points by either guessing which word is the "official" sniglet, or by having their word chosen as the best candidate; the points earned determine how many spaces players can advance on the game board. The game instructions offer suggestions for creating a new sniglet, such as combining or blending words; changing the spelling of a word related to the definition; or creating new, purely nonsensical words.
In 1914, humorist Gelett Burgess published a dictionary of original neologisms, Burgess Unabridged: A New Dictionary of Words You Have Always Needed. Humor writer Paul Jennings had published made-up meanings of real place-names in a 1963 essay appearing in The Jenguin Pennings. Author Douglas Adams, while travelling with British comedy producer John Lloyd, suggested they play a game he had learned at school in which players were challenged to make up plausible word definitions for place names taken from road maps; the definitions they came up with were later incorporated into a 1983 book, The Meaning of Liff. The similarities and relationship between the content of this book and the Hall concept of sniglets is noted by Barbara Wallraff, in Word Court (2001). When the format of Lloyd's satirical TV show Not the Nine O'Clock News was sold to America—where it became Not Necessarily the News—the producers also took the made-up word definition concept, which became the sniglets popularized by Hall.
In a 1990 interview, Hall was asked if the "Sniglets books [were] completely for comic value?" He answered,
Yeah. Well, no. I wouldn't say they're completely for comic value. I mean, I get letters from schools all the time saying how they've incorporated a sniglet book into their reading program. You can look at a lot of the words and sort of break them down into their etymological origins. And you can learn a lot about how and where words derive from. When you assign this frailty of human nature a word, then the word has to work. It has to either be a hybrid of several other words, or have a Latin origin, or something.
Anne Wescott Dodd's A Handbook for Substitute Teachers (1989) and Marcia L. Tate's Reading and Language Arts Worksheets Don't Grow Dendrites: 20 Literacy Strategies That Engage the Brain (2005) suggest creating sniglets as a classroom activity, and so bear out his claim.
Popular English language experts such as Richard Lederer and Barbara Wallraff have noted sniglets in their books, The Miracle of Language and Word Court: Wherein Verbal Virtue Is Rewarded, Crimes Against the Language Are Punished, and Poetic Justice Is Done, respectively. The idea has been borrowed by Barbara Wallraff for her book Word Fugitives: In Pursuit of Wanted Words, where "word fugitives" is her term for invented words. Wallraff's Atlantic Monthly column "Word Fugitives" features words invented by readers, although they had to be puns, which many sniglets are not.
- Aquadextrous: possessing the ability to turn the bathtub faucet with the toes.
- Castcapers: dead actors who appear on television.
- Chwads: discarded gum found beneath tables and countertops.
- Essoasso: One who swerves through a service station to avoid a red light.
- Glutetic chair: the chair design found in movie theaters.
- Icelanche: When ice at the bottom of an upturned glass suddenly moves toward the mouth as one attempts to finish drinking the liquid.
- Jokesult: When someone insults you, you call them on it, and they say, "It was just a joke."
- Larry: a frayed toothbrush.
- Premblememblemation: The act of checking that a letter is in a mailbox after it has been dropped.
- Profanitype: symbols used by cartoonists to replace swear words.
- Snackmosphere: the pocket of air found inside snack and/or potato chip bags.
- Terma helper: The extra verbiage used to stretch a 600-word essay to the required 1000.
- Toboggan hagen: a large ice cream sundae.
In popular culture
Homer Simpson, a fictional character of the animated television series The Simpsons, suggests Son of Sniglet as a good book to name as a favorite and a life influence when he is completing his college application in the episode "Homer Goes to College".
The fictional character Dale Gribble in the animated television series King of the Hill explains his inappropriate laughter upon successfully sabotaging a new relationship of fellow character Bill Dauterive, saying "just remembered a funny sniglet!"
The satirical newspaper The Onion published an article in 2001 mocking sniglets as an obscure fad.
- Petelin, Roslyn (17 January 2018). "Milkshake duck, sniglets and why there's nothing new about invented words". abc.net.au. Retrieved 16 July 2018.
- Wallraff, Barbara (1 March 2006). "Shouldn't There Be a Word ... ?". The American Scholar. Retrieved 28 May 2018.
- Hall, Rich (1984-01-01). Sniglets (snig'lit): any word that doesn't appear in the dictionary, but should. New York: Collier Books. ISBN 0020125402.
- Metcalf, Alan (2002). Predicting New Words: The Secrets of Their Success. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 23. ISBN 0618130063.
- "The Game of Sniglets Playing Instructions" (PDF). Blippee.com. Retrieved 2016-04-06.
- Ware, Wye, Watford, read by the author.
- Gartner, Michael (15 March 1987). Words, Newsday
- Kalaga, Wojciech (1997). Nebulae of discourse: interpretation, textuality and the subject. Peter Lang Pub. ISBN 082043289X.
- Parkvall, Mikael (2006). Limits of Language: Almost Everything You Didn't Know about Language and Languages. William James & Company. ISBN 1590281985.
- Wallraff, Barbara (2001). Word Court: Wherein Verbal Virtue Is Rewarded, Crimes Against the Language Are Punished, and Poetic Justice Is Done. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 306. ISBN 0544109937. Retrieved 2 April 2016.
- Adams, Douglas & Pearlman, Gregg (1987-03-27). "Exclusive Interview With Douglas Adams (Author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy)". Archived from the original on 2013-09-23.
- Lerner, Reuven M. (1990-09-25). "An interview with Rich Hall". The Tech [MIT]. 110 (37): 10.
- Dodd, Anne (1989). A Handbook for Substitute Teachers. Springfield, Ill.: C.C. Thomas. ISBN 0398055394.
- Tate, Marcia (2005). Reading and Language Arts Worksheets Don't Grow Dendrites: 20 Literacy Strategies That Engage the Brain. Thousand Oaks, California: Corwin Press. ISBN 1412915104.
- Lederer, Richard (1999). The Miracle of Language. New York: Pocket Books. p. 58. ISBN 0671028111.
- Wallraff, Barbara (2006). Word Fugitives: In Pursuit of Wanted Words. New York: Harper. p. 5. ISBN 0060832738.
- "Word Fugitives". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2016-04-06.
- Hall, Rich (1984). Sniglets. 866 Third Avenue, New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Company. ISBN 0-02-012530-5.
- "Sniglets". www.astro.umd.edu. Retrieved 2016-08-12.
- Groening, Matt (1997). The Simpsons: A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family. p. 122. ISBN 978-1435245471.
- "King of the Hill : Episode "Untitled Blake McCormack Project" (2008)". IMDb.com. Retrieved 2016-04-06.
- "Man Won't Stop Coming Up With New Sniglets". The Onion. 37 (11). 2001-03-28. Retrieved 2018-09-09.
Rich Hall released several volumes of collected sniglets, illustrated by Arnie Ten:
- Hall, Rich (1984). Sniglets (snig'lit): Any Word That Doesn't Appear in the Dictionary, but Should. Illustrated by Arnie Ten. New York, NY: Macmillan. ISBN 0020125305.
- Sniglets for Kids. 1985. ISBN 0899543979.
- Hall, Rich (1985). More Sniglets (snig'lit): Any Word That Doesn't Appear in the Dictionary, but Should. Illustrated by Arnie Ten. New York, NY: Macmillan. ISBN 0020125607.
- Hall, Rich (1986). Unexplained Sniglets of the Universe (snig'lit): Any Word That Doesn't Appear in the Dictionary, but Should. Illustrated by Arnie Ten. New York, NY: Macmillan. ISBN 002040400X.
- Hall, Rich (1987). Angry Young Sniglets (snig'lit): Any Word That Doesn't Appear in the Dictionary, but Should. Illustrated by Arnie Ten. New York, NY: Macmillan. ISBN 002012600X.
- Hall, Rich (1989). Slichter, Ann; Tourk Lee, Pat (eds.). When Sniglets Ruled the Earth (snig'lit): Any Word That Doesn't Appear in the Dictionary, but Should. Illustrated by Arnie Ten. New York, NY: Macmillan. ISBN 0020404417.
- Game of Sniglets (1990), OCLC 25494206.
- Sniglet a Day – 1994 Calendar (1993), ISBN 0836273796.
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