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The serendipity of nonce words

Written By: Youki on January 16, 2009 1 Comment

btw slumdog is getting some heat from within India for forefronting the only aspect of Indian life that ever “entertains” others: slum life.

there are inherent problems with representation that i’d love to watch out for…


As I read the above line in an email from Usree (don’t worry, I got her permission before posting), it occurs to me how serendipitous the creation of nonce words can be.  I immediately thought of the term “blaxploitation” – the 1970s exploitation of Black stereotypes in film.  Whoever coined the word blaxploitation was both astoundingly clever and lucky – the phonological accordance between “black” and “exploitation” is nothing short of a miracle.  Slumxploitation?  Povertyxploitation?  Poorxploitation?  Ghettoxploitation? As much as I’d like to create a nonce word out of slum and exploitation, it just doesn’t work.


In what ways is this applicable to the study of memes?  Is there a phonological logic that helps shape the virality of memes?  Whenever I hear a meme, there always seems to be a children’s rhyme quality to it, a simplicity and repetition that produces a self-sustaining flow.  From JJ’s “Dy-no-mite!” to Homer’s “doh!” to internet memes (“over 9000!” or “that’s what she said!”), these short phrases have little meaning sui generis, yet exert almost mythical qualities.  In what ways is the sound of a word or phrase itself a myth?

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One Response to “The serendipity of nonce words”

  1. Usree Bhattacharya on: 16 January 2009 at 5:01 pm

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