I am an “oblivion.”
An impassioned, thoughtful reader used the unique sense of the word to describe me and my behavior at Wal-Mart. Apparently the description only applies to me and only while I am at Wal-Mart but at no other store of any variety — at least according to the reader.
When I first read the word — oblivion — I thought the person might be calling me some insult culled from our terminology of prehistory: Like amphibian, for instance. Or, troglodyte.
“Am I a brute?” went my mental dialogue. “Is an oblivion a brute?”
No, not according to the impassioned reader, who contextually defined an oblivion as a person chatting it up at Wal-Mart who is oblivious to shoppers around him. Specifically, the reader defines an oblivion — me, specifically — as someone who stops in Wal-Mart aisles, to chit-chat or engage in some other social activity, and is completely oblivious to other task-minded Wal-Mart shoppers behind and around him. Shoppers like me unnecessarily clog up the aisles, the concerned letter writer lamented.
I get it. An oblivion is a Wal-Mart shopper who is oblivious. (Oblivious to other shoppers in his immediate vicinity.)
Gentle shopper, if I have ever held up your Wal-Mart shopping experience by three, maybe four seconds — five at the very most — because of my oblivion tendencies, please, please, gentle shopper, do not spit upon me. Please give me the benefit of the doubt. Actually, please accept this opinion column as a written apology for my brutish inconsiderateness. Please excuse this oblivion.
My father and mother are both oblivions, so the oblivion’s instincts and nature are encoded into my DNA. It’s not my fault I am an oblivion.
Of course, oblivion is a word – a noun. So, the earnest author of the letter-to-the-editor that prompted this discussion was correct in using oblivion as a noun. According to my “Oxford Concise Dictionary” (10th edition, published 1999), there are four usages of the noun oblivion:
1. The state of being unaware of what is happening around one
(Many of us show an at least practical understanding of that meaning when we shout hyperboles like, “She drank herself into oblivion!”)
2. The state of being forgotten
(People commonly say things like, “The (fill in the blank) became lost in oblivion.”)
3. Destruction or extinction (“Let’s bomb the Iraqis into oblivion!”)
4. Amnesty or pardon (used mostly in legal or historical contexts)
Our letter writer’s new usage of oblivion – an impolite Wal-Mart shopper who clogs up aisles – is new and inventive. Making up words or new usages for existing words is fair game, and it’s fun. It’s sometimes called nonce usage, if it’s coined for one situation or occasion, and probably won’t become a permanent part of language. A neologism, on the other hand, is a made up word that’s likely to become permanent.
Many of us have special neologisms and even whole special jargons we use with our sweetie or inside our family home amongst our family as a whole.
One of the greatest wordsmiths of our beautiful English language, my hero Bill Shakespeare, made up words frequently. Bill’s made up words generally became a part of the English language – many are still used today.
Hey, I have a made-up word for the day to add to your power vocabulary calendar: Chubthargy.
Chubthargy is a noun, formally defined as “a neurotic condition, common to males in mid-life, who have a strong desire to force their guts to become smaller but lack the free time and follow-through to get said bellies shrunk. Men suffering chubthargy usually prefer beef steak and potatoes over lettuce, grass, shrubs and cultured milk for their diets.”
Anyway, I get the letter writer’s point: He believes I am the type of guy who clogs up Wal-Mart aisles, unaware of other Wal-Mart shoppers in his vicinity, in order to further my own social agenda. I’ll keep that awareness top of mind during my next trip to Wal-Mart.
One other thing, tongue in cheek is not a nonce expression. Look it up in a clichés dictionary.
Kinnamon is online/special projects editor of the News & Eagle. Contact him at email@example.com.
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