spaceship no future


The Death of Q*Bert If you know your Genesis 2:19, you know that, though God kept the rivers for himself, Adam’s first job was to find a name for every beast of the field and every fowl of the air. A thing may be merely corporeal, but it isn’t truly real until there’s a word for it. And so “there’s a word for that” is never an unwelcome phrase. It’s trivia that you always want to know.

Take something like @#$%&?!!!, the string of symbols conventionally used in comic strips to denote unprintable (not to mention unutterable) obscenities. There’s a word for that, you know — more than one, in fact. In 2006, for example, Language Log contributor Benjamin Zimmer coined the word obscenicon. Me, I don’t like it; it’s a little too… Cybertronic. But there’s prior art. Back in 1964, Mort Walker came up with some words of his own, words we’re liable to be stuck with, if word finally gets around: grawlixes, jarns, and quimps, half-serious coinages for a tongue-in-cheek cartoonists’ glossary in his book The Lexicon of Comicana.

Half-satisfying, too. Grawlix sounds like the name of an alternative operating system, or something you give to your dog so he won’t eat your shoes. Jarn was a member of the Sugarcubes, and quimp is vaguely evocative of the dated jargon of mid-century sci-fi kitsch, like tribble or equality. They just don’t work, and so I propose, with equal parts pride and humility: fucktuation.