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Arts & Culture

'Word Fugitives:' In Pursuit of Wanted Words

You know the feeling: You notice some everyday phenomenon -- something that always happens -- and search for the word that defines it. Only to realize -- no such word exists.

Word maven Barbara Wallraff rustles up what she calls these "word fugitives" in her column in the The Atlantic Monthly, and in a new book, Word Fugitives. Her readers supply both their ideas for word fugitives -- and the words sought.

"I really like word fugitives that relate to people's everyday lives," Wallraff says. "There are a lot of technological fugitives. We have names for the things, but now we need words for what we do with them."

Reader Allan Crossman, of Oakland, Calif., asked: "I'm looking for a term that describes the momentary confusion experienced by everyone in the vicinity when a cell phone rings and no one is sure if it is his/hers or not."

Wallraff say that with ring tones, "you'd think that that would be history even by now. But no, people still experience 'pandephonium.'" Or is it ringchronicity, ringxiety -- or even fauxcellarm?

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