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Brattling After The Pacifire: 'That Should Be A Word'


OK puzzle players, stay tuned because this next segment is right up your alley. Kinovator, a word for one who forms a nontraditional family. Fidgital, excessively checking one's devices. Bangst, stressed over diminishing funds. This is the language of Lizzie Skurnick, the woman behind the former New York Times column "That Should Be A Word." Her new book by that same title is a glossary of these innovative terms. When we spoke to her about the book, we started off with the pacifire, spelled P-A-C-I-F-I-R-E.

LIZZIE SKURNICK: That word was inspired by a ring of fire and coming through the ring of fire, which of course is birth-related.

MARTIN: For every word that you list in your book, you give a little explanation of how it should be used. And the one for pacifire is (reading) At six months, Allegra looked up and found herself showered, her child dressed and three bottles in the fridge. She had come through the pacifire.


MARTIN: Which makes complete sense to me.


MARTIN: All right, so I'm going to stay in this vein because you dedicate an entire chapter to words that have to do with parenthood. And another one struck me - the idea of brattling. Explain what it means to brattle?

SKURNICK: Brattle is to talk about your children, often at length. It's brattle, but it's also, you know, brat, to rattle on, to prattle on, a rattle and you know rat. You know, my words often have sort of internal words in them also. And that word, I think it had six or seven words.

MARTIN: So how did this start for you? Have you always done this, just made up words?

SKURNICK: Yeah. I - you know, I've always rhymed, semi compulsively, since I was young. You know, I remember in second grade, I used to hand in my book reports in metered verse because I couldn't help it. (Laughter).


SKURNICK: So I have always made up words. And I have also always made up analogies. And I think all of that came together, you know, the punning, the rhyming, the mania.


SKURNICK: Really, the mania.

MARTIN: Have you ever come across someone using one of your words, like a stranger at a coffee shop or something?

SKURNICK: No. I mean, I remember some website recently printed 10 of the words, and they'd chosen their favorite words. And I always google the words before I put them in the column because I want to make sure it's not a word everyone has already made up.


SKURNICK: And so these were all words I had really vetted. (Laughter). And my favorite comment was, you know, I think I've heard all these before. But that was a compliment because it really means that the words sound like they already exist.

MARTIN: Yeah. Yeah. All right, so I'm going to give you a little test because this is your thing. What you're good at is coming up with words. I'm going to give you a scenario, and it's my personal bugaboo, which is the perpetuation of verbal tics. We all have them, everyone who does this kind of work. And I have a - I'm sure I have many, but there are a couple I know about. I say 'so' a lot to begin sentences. And I say 'I wonder.' So what is that, Lizzie? Is that a thing?

SKURNICK: I mean, for radio - OK, so I say this - I adore Terry Gross.

MARTIN: Fresh Air. Yeah.

SKURNICK: Fresh Air. But since she is probably the prime example of this, I might say that it's - you're being involunterry.

MARTIN: Oh, that is awesome.

SKURNICK: (Laughter).

MARTIN: That's amazing.

SKURNICK: And I hope it's really a complement to Terry.

MARTIN: Yes, I'm sure she'll take it that way. I'm sure she doesn't have any of these verbal tics. Lizzie Skurnick. Her new book is called "That Should Be A Word: A Language Lover's Guide To Choregasms, Povertunity, Brattling and Other Much-needed Terms For The Modern World." She joined us from our studios in New York. Lizzie, thank you so much for talking with us.

SKURNICK: Oh, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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