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The power of xkcd

I love the flexibility and speed of the English language. Witness what happened this morning.

Randall Munroe posted this xkcd comic this morning, titled "Malamanteau:"


[Rollover: "The article has 23 citations, one of which is an obscure manuscript from the 1490's and the other twenty-two are arguments on LanguageLog."]

So, as I do whenever I run into a word I've never seen before, I looked it up. The first thing the Google search pulled up was a Wikipedia page telling us that the Malamanteau page has been deleted today, sometime after the xkcd post. The second Google hit was the comic. Then came a series of entries indicating that people had added the word malamanteau to various databases in the last few hours, including Now Google which posted the following, (which was picked up by Askville by Amazon):

Malamanteau - Malamanteau Wiki Delete! - Wikipedia deleted this page, so I'm sure some people may be confused. A malamanteau is when somebody tries to use a neologism (alternatively, an idiom) but mistakenly confuses a word with another one. However, unlike a malapropism or an eggcorn, the fumbled word is not completely replaced, but merely transfixed to the new one. A famous example is: "misunderestimate" which was popularized by the 43rd President of the United States, probably intended to be "underestimate" but mistakenly jumbled with "misunderstand."

Note the lack of reference to xkcd.

Going back to my Google search, there's a note at the bottom of the page indicating that "malamanteau" is the 4th most popular search word in the last hour. And, as I type, Google picks up over 2,910 entries for the word---a number that increases each time I refresh the search.

Malamanteau may not be a recognized English word. Yet. That seems to be changing. Bravo xkcd.

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