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May I have a word: The oft-repeated jokes that make us roll our eyes

They were funny once, perhaps. Now, they just land with a thud on our tired ears.

Crummy joke fatigue is real, especially when you've heard that joke one time too many.Adobe/Victor Koldunov - stock.adobe.co

Last time, I asked you to put a name to “a jokey remark that a spouse or other family member has made once too often” and perhaps share some such remarks you’re beyond tired of.

Jane McGovern, of Scituate, wrote: “I suffer terribly from my husband’s lame jokes that I have to hear on repeat. We have been married for 35 years, so that is a long time to suffer.

“His favorite is in response to the question ‘How are you today?’ His answer: ‘So good I wish I were twins!’ Arghhh! I submit that such lame sayings should be called anecdon’ts.”


Ken Lakritz, of Winchester, suggested: “Jokey remarks repeated by forgetful elderly relatives can be collectively referred to as anecdotage.” Which I suppose is no more ageist than dotage itself is, so I’m not going to get all woke about it.

Joel Angiolillo, of Weston, told me: “We have so many of these jokes in our family it’s hard to know which ones to pick:

“‘I’m going to run to the post office.’ Spouse: ‘Why don’t you take the car?’

“And with a nod to the 1980 movie ‘Airplane!’: ‘Surely you don’t mean that.’ Spouse: ‘I do, and don’t call me Shirley.’

“These are definitely yuckyuks.”

Bob Mangano, of Natick, proposed frayse, meaning “a worn-out remark so often repeated it has itself become frayed and also frays the nerves of those who hear it” — which holds up reasonably well in writing but falls down on the job when spoken. Bob also came up with reprisecrack, an “oft-repeated wisecrack.”

And Sean Smith, of Newton, came up with the tidy, self-explanatory unwisecrack. I like that. I like it a lot! Sean takes bragging rights this time.

On to our new challenge, which comes indirectly from Martin Fraser, a kind reader from Medford. Martin went to an estate sale in Prides Crossing not long ago and, “amongst numerous neurology textbooks (some the owner had authored) and eclectic vintage texts,” spotted a book he thought I might enjoy. So he bought it and mailed it to me.


He was right. “Bloom’s Bouquet of Imaginary Words,” by Jeffrey and Carole Bloom, which was published in 2004, is absolutely the kind of thing I enjoy. Its premise is explained succinctly on the dust jacket: “Add one letter . . . take away one letter . . . or change one letter . . . Presto! You’ve invented a brand new word!”

An example also appears on the dust jacket, beneath an illustration of a crab admiring itself in a mirror. It reads “shelfish: a self-involved crustacean.”

The table of contents lists 15 chapters, which have titles like “Pugeons & Pigamists (Animals, Pets, & Pests),” “Plumpkins & Grimlets (Food & Drink),” and “Fiberals & Reapublicans (Politics & Military).”

Oddly, the authors never got around to putting a name to their creations, which of course should itself be a word of this sort.

Regardless, if you think it would be impossible to come up with enough of these whatever-they-ares to fill a book, you would be wrong. The layout is, admittedly, lavish with white space and illustrations, but “Imaginary Words” runs to 159 pages. Here are my favorites to get you into the spirit.

Barebecue: Nudist colony picnic.

Booffont: A scary hairdo.


Bookeeper: One who keeps a record of the number of negative responses during a baseball game.

Doledrums: A feeling of despondency after eating canned pineapple.

Domasticated: A wild animal trained to chew politely.

Econoclast: One who attacks long-established Keynesian theories.

Gulpability: Blame for swallowing evidence.

Harbinge: The announcement of an intention to indulge excessively.

(My computer’s spell-checker has started hyperventilating.)

Hipso facto: Inherently cool.

Holipstic: An organic cosmetic.

Lamputate: Cut the lights.

Legitslation: Honest law-making.

Martiny: Small cocktail.

Matadoor: Entrance to a bull ring.

Opiñata: Batting around an idea.

Precurser: A harbinger of profane language.

Predialection: A preference for speaking with an accent.

Prepaired: An arranged marriage.

Purgastory: Dante’s Inferno.

Rigamarolex: A watch with unnecessarily complicated works.

Toylet: A dollhouse bathroom.

Warrent: A legal document authorizing a search of a rabbit’s home.

In a perfect world, the challenge this time would be to come up with a name for these marvelous word inventions that is itself an example of them. In a less perfect world — and don’t forget that the perfect is the enemy of the good — you’ll come up with any word, together with its definition, that the Blooms would have been glad to include in their book if you’d come up with it two decades ago.

Send your contributions to me at Barbara.Wallraff@globe.com by noon on Friday, Sept. 30, and kindly include where you live. Responses may be edited.

Barbara Wallraff is a writer who lives in Cambridge.