William Safire recently did an article in the Herald Tribune on two new words floating around English and brought up a third in doing so. Earlier this year, Safire wrote: “The prevailing put-down of right-wing bloggers is wingnuts; this has recently been countered by the vilification of left-wing partisans who use the Web as moonbats, the origin of which I currently seek.”
I am not sure why the “origin” of these words are important. In fact, English is a compounding language, which means you can put pretty much any two words together to form a third, new one. Wingnut, of course, is not new; only the usage in referring to right-wing extremists is new.
Assuming the use of this word to refer to extremist is legitimate, it can refer to extremists of either end of the political spectrum. If wingnut is a clipping of rightwing nut, it can just as smoothly refer to a leftwing nut. The question is, do we need this usage?
Moonbat is apparently an odd sort of blending of the phrases “baying at the moon” and “bats in the belfry” though, as Safire points out, the word was originally used to refer to an airplane. To me a moonbat is a bat that has something to do with the moon (how about you?) Anyone can make it up on the spot with this legitimate (grammatical) meaning. In fact, it could be a baseball bat designed to hit well in the moonlight.
A batmoon, then, is a moon recognized by bats or a moon some bat gives you when you annoy him. (He would have to pull some skin down, I guess, but imagination here is allowed.) The point is, any two words can be shoved together and the result will be a new word with an imaginable meaning.
If this is true, it is not obvious that wingnut and moonbat in the senses currently in use are sustainable by which I mean that they won’t be around for very long.
The third word, however, is cleverer than either of these two: e-maelstrom. If you have been receiving e-mail for a year or more, you know exactly what it means: an inundation of wanted and unwanted e-mail. This word is what is a righteous blend: e-mail and maelstrom have been not only shoved but jammed together forcing mail out of the picture. Bottom line, though, is that it is a sniglet, a word that isn’t in the dictionary but should be. However, its usefulness just might sustain it much longer than either moonbat or wingnut in their new senses.