Defined by Tom McArthur in The Oxford Companion to the English Language (1992) as an informal, late-20th-century term for "a word created and used to produce a special effect or attract attention, as if it were part of the performance of a stunt man or a conjuror." Also called a jocular formation.
Examples and Observations:
- "The cinematograph by 1899 was called the 'cinema' and by 1908 the 'cine,' pronounced 'sinney,' whence the recent stunt word sin-ema for X-rated films."
(Irving Lewis Allen, The City in Slang. Oxford University Press, 1995)
"Stephen Colbert had so quickly thrust his comic character and his blowhard vocabulary into the national consciousness that the Merriam-Webster dictionary editors had selected 'truthiness'--according to Colbert, 'what you want the facts to be, as opposed to what the facts are'--as its Word of the Year in 2006. A year earlier, after Colbert had been on the air only a few months, another group, the American Dialect Society, had awarded it the same honor, while clarifying truthiness as a 'stunt word.'"
(Bill Carter, The War for Late Night. Viking Penguin, 2010)
"Rudyard Kipling coined the word curtiosity, which means the asking of ever so many questions. It may perish with the book in which it appeared, or it may reach a venerable age like fudge--who knows?"
(Leon Mead, Word-Coinage, 1902)
"Science fiction novelist Robert A. Heinlein coined [the word grok] in Stranger in a Strange Land (1961). Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, eleventh edition, defines grok as 'to understand profoundly and intuitively.' A more precise definition might be 'to scan all available information regarding a situation, digest it, and form a distilled opinion.' It's a nifty word, but outside of people who have read Heinlein, I don't think it has much currency."
(Charles Harrington Elster, What in the Word? Harcourt, 2005)
Klaatu Barada Nikto
"[In the science fiction film The Day the Earth Stood Still, 1951] the now-famous 'safe word' expression 'Klaatu barada nikto' that Helen Benson (Patricia Neal) uses to restrain Gort is likely a fail-safe feature installed for the purpose of a diplomatic mission such as Klaatu's. In the event of a 'misunderstanding,' Klaatu would need to have to ability to tell Gort to stand down."
(Steven Sanders, The Philosophy of Science Fiction Film, University Press of Kentucky, 2007)
The Lighter Side of Stunt Words
"'Refudiate,' 'misunderestimate,' 'wee-wee’d up.' English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!"
(Sarah Palin, Twitter post, July 2010)
Also Known As: jocular formation