Abhorring The Vacuum

A couple new books out this fall invent words for phenomenon that should exist but do not. Lisa Schiller’s Wordbirds: An Irreverent Lexicon for the 21st Century includes entries such as “Youthflake” (Adult who mimics the dress style of the younger generation) and “Solookist” (Vain person who never misses an opportunity to look in the mirror) and “Brightbite” (One who bleaches his teeth until they reach an implausible degree of whiteness) and Ben Schott’s Schottenfreude which invents German terms for experiences that need a name but do not have one, for example “Gaststattenneueröffnungsuntergangsgewissheit (certainty that a newly opened restaurant will fail), “Mahlneid” (coveting thy neighbor’s restaurant order), “Gastdruck” (the effort required to be a good houseguest), and “Betttrug” (disorientation upon waking in a strange bed).

I came upon these books reading Gene Weingarten and Schott’s collaborated-upon list of such needs in the Washington Post, which includes terms for:

  • Stepping down heavily on a stair that isn’t there
  • Elaborately pretending to scan the entire population of a bus or Metro car so that, without arousing suspicion or giving offense, you can momentarily scope out the hottie
  • That awkward feeling of discovering an indecipherable note in your own handwriting
  • That dishonest, smiling nod you give when someone is discussing a topic with which you should be familiar, but aren’t
  • The dilemma of whether to ask someone to repeat something a third time, or to pretend you understand
  • Enjoying emotionally manipulative mass culture, despite knowing you are being manipulated