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stunt word



Klaatu barada nikto: stunt phrase used to restrain Gort in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)

© Twentieth Century Fox


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.

See also:

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)
  • Truthiness
    "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)
  • Curtiosity
    "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)

  • Grok
    "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

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