Sunday, April 03, 2011

A sway with words

Most mornings I do the Washington Post crossword puzzle (for you moderns out there, a crossword puzzle is kind of like sudoko for people who can read). Thanks to puzzling, a lot words come to my mind quite easily that otherwise would never ever occur to me. For example, I seldom utilize decorative, based pitchers, I’ve never seen a decorative needle case, and I rarely discuss pre-Meiji Restoration Tokyo. Yet a week almost never goes by without me writing the words “ewer”, “etui”, or “Edo”. Such words are part of the glory of the genius of English, which is the great linguistic lint-trap, the river delta of dictionaries, the junkyard of jargon. Sure it makes our language a little gunky and confusing. But lint-traps are a treasure trove of spare change, river deltas have the richest soils, and junkyards are the wellspring of the Chitty Chitty Bang Bangs of tomorrow. Or is it “Chitty Chitties Bang Bang”? Gotta figure that out in case “cinema British flying motorcars” is a clue in a puzzle some day… Anyway, crosswords are not the only medium that helps preserve special sets of words. Comic books do it, too. There are words and phrases that I generally do not hear outside of a comic book context. For example, I seldom utilize henchmen, I’ve never met an invulnerable person, and I rarely discuss my secret identity. Of course, you’re not supposed to discuss your secret identity; but that’s not the point here. Naturally, there are going to be words and phrases that come from comic books that don’t get used in regular speech, like “batarang”, “shrink ray”, and “plastic cat arrow”. But there are also words that, while they may have been born in the real world, now exist mostly as hothouse flowers in the special environment of comic books. Words like “villain”. What words, phrases, or even concepts do you think have been preserved by the medium of comic books?


Marcos said...


Anonymous said...


joecab said...

my favorites go back a number of years:

pug ugly / plug ugly / pugly
husband mine
gamma/cosmic rays (even though they do really exist)

and I like how a show like "The Venture Brothers" (with some serious comic b0ok roots) can turn a word like "arch" into a verb

Anonymous said...


Bryan L said...

Hmm, "lair" was the first that came to my mind, but Marcos beat me to it. Onward:
• mutant
• energy signature
• teleport (not "transport" -- that was preserved elsewhere)
• metahuman
• timestream
• transmute
• antigravity
• extradimensional
• rogues gallery
• levitation
• force field (not "deflector shield" -- see above)
• antimatter? (debatable)
• metamorphosis? (debatable)
• shapeshift
• phase (verb, not noun)
• superpower
• superstrength
• telepathy
• precognition
• telekinesis

I'm running out of steam. I figure these are food for discussion, though.

TotalToyz said...

"Invulnerable" comes to mind.

Nathan Hall said...

So many onomatopoeias I don't know where to start.

Also, consider some character names:

Hulk (have you ever used that for anything but the hero or an Umber Hulk in D&D?)
Uncanny (the X-Men really aren't this, yet it was in their title for long enough)

Comics also offer static snapshots of how language changes. Consider how Batman was a "weird" or even "queer" crime fighter in his earliest adventures and the Joker had a series of "boner" crimes documented in Superdickery or how Batman admonishes Robin for being "gay." These words gained new meaning that make them funnier than they should be.

And, yes, I am a professor of linguistics. Thanks so much for asking.

BonesMcCoy said...

I remember the confused looks I would get from my son when I would get home from work and he would want to do some wrestling. I would have to change out of my work clothes to get into my "fighting togs". I have no idea what comic used to say that, but it was a Silver Age phrase that always stuck with me from childhood.

r duncan said...

Who's never heard of kryptonite?

Pete said...

Anonymous stole my thunder, but one of the first comics I remember reading was "Secret Wars" (I know!), and that was my first exposure to the terms milquetoast and cretin. I've never heard anyone use those terms outside of comics.

Scipio said...

Ooo, "cretin", yes. "Poltroon" is another one.

Anonymous said...

"Brobdingnagian"--think Roy Thomas used that one a lot, and I thought myself a clever l'il pre-teen that I knew the source.

"Abandoned Warehouse"--with the price of urban land, who abandons that kind of square footage anymore?

Got to go--need to figure out how to "dial" a number on my cell phone (he snarked while realizing there's probably a dial iphone app for that)

TotalToyz said...

one of the first comics I remember reading was "Secret Wars" (I know!), and that was my first exposure to the terms milquetoast and cretin.

And that was just the fans talking about the writer.

TotalToyz said...

Got to go--need to figure out how to "dial" a number on my cell phone

Pretty sure there was a whole other Absorbapost about that. We do still refer to TV shows as being "on the air" and a musician's product as an "album", don't we?

Bryan L said...

Shoot, TT, I still "tape" TV shows, even though I don't actually have a videocassette anywhere in my house any more. I try to say "record," but I regress constantly.

belatedly but sincerely said...

"chronal energy"

Harvey Jerkwater said...

"Stripling" is a term I've never heard spoken, nor even read anywhere, except in comics. Calling a teenage boy a "stripling" sounds a little NAMBLA-ish to my modern, depraved ears.

I'm just sayin'.

Scipio said...

Wasn't he Nudeman's sidekick?

Chester "Chesty" Chippendale?