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A sniglet is a neologism defined as "any word that doesn't appear in the dictionary, but should". The term was created by writer/actor/comedian Rich Hall, who first created a series of Sniglets while he was a performer on the 1980s HBO comedy series Not Necessarily the News. Each episode of the monthly series featured a regular segment on Sniglets by Hall. Hall's own sniglets along with submissions by fans were compiled into several books, starting with Sniglets and More Sniglets.
Life after HBO
In 1984, a collection of sniglets was published, titled Sniglets (snig' lit: any word that doesn't appear in the dictionary, but should). It was followed by a "daily comic panel" in newspapers, four more books, a game, and a calendar. The books have their entries arranged in alphabetical order like a dictionary, with information on how to pronounce the word, followed by a definition, and sometimes accompanied by an illustration. The original book had two appendices, "Anatomical Sniglets" and "Extra Added Bonus Section for Poets" (a sniglet that rhymed with orange). More Sniglets has an "Audio-Visual Sniglets" section; the rest had no such appendices. All five books had an "Official Sniglets Entry Blank," beginning, "Dear Rich: Here's my sniglet, which is every bit as clever as any in this dictionary." The first four books listed all the contributors after the dedication page.
The Game of Sniglets involved creating new sniglets, in addition to trying to guess the "true sniglet". In the "Playing Instructions," there are ideas on "How to Create a Sniglet" which include (1) combination (blend), (2) spelling change (altering a word related to the definition), (3) pure nonsense word, or (4) a "take-off on a well known product" (a spelling change to a trademark). However, any method was acceptable.
Sniglets and society
In a 1990 interview, Hall was asked if the "Sniglets books [were] completely for comic value?" He answered,
|“||Yeah. Well, no. I wouldn't say they're completely for comic value. I mean, I get letters from schools all the time saying how they've incorporated a sniglet book into their reading program. You can look at a lot of the words and sort of break them down into their etymological origins. And you can learn a lot about how and where words derive from. When you assign this frailty of human nature a word, then the word has to work. It has to either be a hybrid of several other words, or have a Latin origin, or something.||”|
Books such as A Handbook for Substitute Teachers (1989) by Anne Wescott Dodd and Reading and Language Arts Worksheets Don't Grow Dendrites : 20 Literacy Strategies That Engage the Brain (2005) by Marcia L. Tate bear out his claim; they suggest creating sniglets as a classroom activity.
Popular English language experts such as Richard Lederer and Barbara Wallraff have noted sniglets in their books, The Miracle of Language and Word Court: Wherein Verbal Virtue Is Rewarded, Crimes Against the Language Are Punished, and Poetic Justice Is Done respectively. More recently, the idea has been "borrowed" by Barbara Wallraff for her new book Word Fugitives: In Pursuit of Wanted Words, where "word fugitives" is her term for invented words. Wallraff's Atlantic Monthly column "Word Fugitives" features words invented by readers, although they must be puns, which many sniglets are not.
Sniglets also are a popular subject of satire. Homer Simpson, a character on the animated series The Simpsons, suggests "Son of Sniglet" as a good book to name as a favorite and a life influence on a college application in the episode "Homer Goes to College". Additionally, Dale Gribble on King of the Hill explains away his inappropriate laughter at his successfully sabotaging Bill Dauterive's new relationship by saying "just remembered a funny sniglet!" in the episode "Untitled Blake McCormack Project" (2008). The Onion published an article in 2001 mocking Sniglets as an obscure fad.
Humour writer Paul Jennings had published made-up words derived from place-names in a 1963 essay appearing in The Jenguin Pennings. Author Douglas Adams, while travelling with British comedy producer John Lloyd, suggested they play a game he had learned at school in which players were challenged to make up plausible word definitions for place names taken from road maps. The definitions they came up with were later incorporated into a 1983 book, The Meaning of Liff. When the format of Lloyd's satirical TV show Not the Nine O'Clock News was sold to America to become Not Necessarily the News, the producers also took the made-up word definition concept, which became Sniglets.
Books and more
Rich Hall released several volumes of collected sniglets, illustrated by Arnie Ten:
- Sniglets (snig' lit: any word that doesn't appear in the dictionary, but should) (1984) ISBN 0-02-012530-5
- More Sniglets (1985a) ISBN 0-02-012560-7
- Unexplained Sniglets of the Universe (1986) ISBN 0-02-040400-X
- Angry Young Sniglets (1987) ISBN 0-02-012600-X
- When Sniglets Ruled the Earth (1989) ISBN 0-02-040441-7
- Sniglets for Kids (Sniglets Collector Sticker Books) (1985b) ISBN 0-89954-397-9
- Game of Sniglets (1990) OCLC 25494206
- Sniglet a Day - 1994 Calendar (1993) ISBN 0-8362-7379-6