THE EXTENDED WORDS: An Imaginary Dictionary

Sid Gershgoren
Red Dragonfly Press ($23)

by Jenny Dunning

FLUG /fləg´/ n. 1. A substance reputed to wash haze from some, but not all, early mornings. 2. By extension, any act or word or image which clears ambiguous action and verbiage from any given group of co-terminous situations selected by chance or, barring chance, by outright chicanery.

You won’t find flug in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, or even in theOED. It’s a word from Sid Gershgoren’s “imaginary dictionary,” The Extended Words. Yet, like so many of Gershgoren’s inventions, once you’ve encountered it, it seems like a word English should have.

The author of four books of poetry, Gershgoren has compiled a list of plausible-sounding words, defined them, and provided invented quotations that demonstrate their use. The words range from pure whimsy—such as galisse, a shoe that knows where its wearer wants to go and how to get there—to barbed rants aimed at intellectuals and mass culture alike, as in synecdofuge, “a device used to expel verbal, long-range, parasitic reductionisms.” Some are onomatopoetic—pecta pecta, an often fatal stuttering disorder—while others, like ikristics (frozen particles of air indistinguishable from snowflakes) wear their etymology on their sleeves.

As fun as it is, there is a serious point to the project. In a “Short Note” by “the Author Himself” (with its echoes of Fielding), Gershgoren exhorts the reader to participate actively in the text. He even includes exercises in which the reader is invited to invent her own definitions and supply words for definitions provided. Language, Gershgoren maintains, is arbitrary, and we benefit from exposing this, from pushing at the perceived limits of meaning. Ultimately, Gershgoren’s goal is for the extended words to “serve as a basis for the liberation of our linguistic sense, which has been so long held in its real and virtual shackles.”

Finally, though, it’s Gershgoren’s irreverence that makes this book worth reading. Nothing is sacrosanct. Underneath the standard “all rights reserved” copyright notice, a note specifies that copyright “should not and does not and will not apply in any way,” and goes on to riff on the word copyright, concluding that there “is no copy and . . . no right to copy, since there is nothing whatsoever to copy.” In a similar vein, the back cover mixes a presumed actual blurb from Albert Goldbarth with inventions attributed to Maria Twominds and Last Fancy.

These names are typical of other Gershgoren inventions—Hank Panky, Sister Mammary Angelica Pouncer, Roger Curmudgeon, and the like, all supplied with their own “biographies” at the back of the dictionary. Mary Border Redemption’s first book, A Manual for Eating, has few extant copies as it was printed with vegetable dyes on spinach paper so it could be “digested” on reading. Lait de L’Etat, the “real” founder of the La Leche League, expounds on his child rearing theories in his article “The Substance of the Afterbirth,” found in his sixteen-volume tome on weaning. You get the idea.

Gershgoren himself cautions that attempts to read the book cover-to-cover will likely result in an “incapacitating linguistic indigestion.” It’s the kind of book best left in a place where one might spend longer than expected and look for a no-strings-attached sort of entertainment. Gershgoren’s word xeticseems to apply: “wildly improbable, but always, on slightly closer inspection, ‘refreshingly’ improbable.”

Rain Taxi Online Edition, Spring 2010 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2010