January 31, 2008


Like most people, I occasionally make up words. We all do it, don't we? We're trying to express or describe something, and can't quite nail it down with the words we know; so we come up with our own solution. Most of the time, these new words have a lifespan of that conversation, and are never heard again after that one use and chuckle. Some of them, however, bear repeating. They stick around. They go into a regular rotation, and our friends might even start to use them. Heck, some of them make their way into the national consciousness*. The average person might simply refer to these terms as made-up words, and they would certainly not be wrong to do so. But those of us of a certain age, who grew up in a certain pop-cultural period, recognize them as more than that. We know that some the best of these words fall into their own category, their own special place in the American lexicon.

We call them by their rightful name. We call them Sniglets.

Mention sniglets to someone, and if they remember them at all you will almost invariably get the same reaction, sort of like they just ran into a close friend from middle school that they haven't seen in years. But what they may not remember, however, is just where sniglets came from. Sure, there were books and even a sniglet calendar, but before all of that, there was a show. Much like Beavis and Bart (and Fergie, for that matter), sniglets started out as a small part of a larger show, which grew to far exceed (and outlive) the program that got them noticed.

Back in the early days of cable, when Nickelodeon was dumping green slime on people, and MTV was, well, something people actually wanted, HBO was coming up, still filling out its movie selections; but even then HBO was producing original shows. One of the first of these was a spoof-news program called Not Necessarily the News.

The show was decent, occasionally very good; kind of a distant progenitor of The Daily Show. NNTN introduced the world to Rich Hall, who in turn introduced the world to sniglets. And the rest, as they say, is history. But not nearly as many people remember the show itself so much as the new words the show provided. (For example, just look at the difference between NNTN's wiki entry and the one for sniglets. It's not even close**).

And if they do remember, then rest assured that not only do you get the holy-crap-i-remember-that reaction, complete with wide eyes and a chuckle or two, the person you are talking to will without fail proceed to tell you their favorite, the one that cemented sniglets in their memory. Promise. Everybody has one, and no matter how long it's been, they'll remember it pretty much on the spot. Mine? That's easy:
  • cinemuck [n]: the sticky substance that covers the floor of most movie theaters.
So this long string of nostalgia was sparked for me over the holidays, while I was down visiting my family for Christmas. Unfortunately, I can't remember the exact circumstances, but I know I was sitting in the living room, talking with my brother and sister-in-law. I am blessed with a very funny family, and we spend at least as much time together laughing as doing anything else. It's a good group. Somewhere in the midst of all of the funny conversations, it occurred to me.
  • mirthquake [n]: an extreme state of amusement, in which one is laughing so hard, or has been laughing for so long, that the person ceases to make any sound; all that remains is a near-involuntary shuddering of the body, and frequently unsuccessful attempts to catch one's breath.
I have never had a short way of describing this condition, but I have always greatly enjoyed it. See, my friend Katie from junior high school was the queen of this sort of thing. She was an easy laugh, and once she got going she had a lot of trouble stopping. She would often end up in exactly this condition, a huge smile (that bordered on a pained expression, honestly), occasional tears, and shaking, punctuated by loud intakes of breath. I remember once in a math class, she got caught by something funny at her desk, laughed for a couple of minutes, but then had a question for the teacher. She got up to ask, but by the time she got up to the teacher's desk, she was in full mirthquake mode. She tried for the better part of a minute to work through it and ask her question, standing next to the teacher, but eventually waved it off, went back to her desk, sat back down, and dropped her face into her hands until she could re-compose herself. As much as we laughed, none of us were more amused than the teacher, who got quite a kick out of it. He was good like that. And I don't think she ever asked her question, either.

In many cases, the onset of the mirthquake is signaled by the
  • snortle [n]: laughter punctuated by an intake of breath through the nose, resulting in a sound reminiscent of a pig; this usually embarrasses the person making the sound, causing them to laugh further, often creating a snowball effect leading to general loss of control.
I have several friends who do this, and it's always hugely entertaining. First they're laughing at something else, then the snortle, then they're also laughing at themselves, and it just spirals. Personally, I love it.

The ultimate goal, of course, is to cause something to come out of your friend's nose; that's the grail, right there. But the mirthquake and the snortle are perfectly acceptable in the meantime.

So yeah. I made a sniglet (or two). If you remember them, please share your favorite(s), or one you made yourself.

* Only while writing this did I learn that the term I and all my friends always used to refer to a car with one headlight out (pediddel) is, in fact, one of these.
**Let's be clear: I am in no way suggesting wiki is some kind of journalistic standard, but I still think it says something.


Luke said...

Who's this Katie from math class? I don't remember her.

WiB said...

Luke: small amendment - it was junior high, and you do remember her. Last name starts with H (or at least, it did). It was Mr. Kopnicky's class, although I don't remember whether you were in there with us that year or not. Think about it for a sec and you'll remember who I'm talking about, and you'll know exactly what I mean.

luke said...

Oh ... junior high. Well, that clears things up considerably. How'd that slip-up get through your fact checkers and copy editors? (Also ... Pretty sure I wasn't in your Kopnicky class in 8th grade.)

Melissa said...

Nothing is as good as "japinavian" - an interior decorating phenomenon that includes both Asian and Scan styles of furniture and accessories. You heard it here first. Actually, you heard it in my car first.

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