Dr. Goodword’s Language Blog

Potamophilous and such

The sussurous SusquehannaJim Rodarmel was baffled that he could not find our recent Good Word potamophilous in any contemporary dictionary. He dropped us a line, saying, “It may interest you to know that your own dictionary service yields no results for your word of the day potamophilous. The same goes for the ‘variant’ spelling used in the misspelled MP3 file name potomaphilous.mp3 and the related words potamophile, potomaphile, potamophilia and potomaphilia.”

The ‘related words’ Jim mentions are derived from the misspelling on the sound file. It never occurred to us that readers checked the names of our sound files so we occasionally allowed misspellings originating in the recording studio to stand. That policy has been changed.

Well, you don’t find google or podcast in any dictionary nor truthiness in any except the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the ultimate collection of English words. You do find potamophilous there:

Potamophilous (obs. nonce word)
1827 Brit. Critic I. 474 his public State barge, on the bosom of the Thames, in all the majesty and magnificence of a Fluviatile and Potamophilous Lord Mayor.

It does declare that it is an obsolete ‘nonce’ word. A ‘nonce’ word is one that someone made up and used only once or a few times, never intending for it to ‘stick’. There are lots of those floating around right now so, if we were to launch potamophilous on a new career, it would be running in very popular company.

I decided to run this one because, unlike recent neologisms like google, podcast and blog, it is a properly formed word, assigned the appropriate meaning. I like the way it sounds (better than ‘river-loving’) and think it has a claim to a permanent place in the English vocabulary. Its association with what the Greeks called “river horses” makes it a bit jovial and light-hearted, too.

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