Four Words I Learned

I recently encountered four words that I was unfamiliar with. There were two from the November 9 issue of the New Yorker (yes, I’m very behind in my reading):

  • Celling: The gerund form of “to cell”, as in to use one’s mobile phone. In the New Yorker, the sentence reads “In some circles, driving while celling is now called ‘pulling a Shriver’, after Maria Shriver, the wife of Governor Arnold Schwarzeneggar , of California, who has been caught a few times violating her state’s no-cell-phone law.” I’ve never seen this usage before, and it feels fiddly and wrong. Plus, isn’t the English-speaking world increasingly using the term ‘mobile phone’ instead of ‘cell phone’?
  • Idiolect: From a terrific article about Tim Monich, dialect coach to A-list actors. An idiolect is “the way a person talks. A collection of idiolects forms a dialect, which iis an agreement, common to a place, about grammar and vocabulary and certain expressions.”

And here are two more new words (well, one is vaguely familiar) from the very same sentence from a Stephen Fry blog post. The sentence reads:

I enter a kind of writing purdah, an eremitical seclusion in which there is just me, a keyboard and abundant cups of coffee, all in a room whose curtains have been drawn against the light.

  • Purdah: In this case, Fry is using it to as “a curtain or screen, used mainly in India to keep women separate from men or strangers.” That said, it also refers to the practice of sex segregation and concealing of the female form in Islam and Hinduism as practiced in parts of India.
  • Erimitical: To be reclusive, as in an ‘erimite’. It has a similar root to ‘hermit’–originally through the Greek word eremos, meaning ‘solitary’.

Speaking of words, I recognize that the grammatically correct way to write this post’s first sentence is “I recently encountered four words with which I was unfamiliar.” But that’s grammar fascism of the worst kind, and I won’t stand for it.


  1. Thanks for the words. Now let’s see if I have a chance to use them today – verbally! I like “celling” and “selling” are just too close methinks. The context would have to be really clear. And thanks for sparing the grammar fascism. I feel sorry for people who engage in that sort of thing. haha

  2. Darren

    Thanks for that. Would agree with your opinion on “Celling”. Not a good word


  3. I’m surprised that you didn’t know the word ‘purdah’ as it is a very common word and since September 2001 it should have been on tv quite a bit on any news item or documentary on the Muslim community.

  4. Celling is a poor neologism, for all the reasons already cited. In the memorable words of Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes): Verbing weirds language [].

    Idiolect seems like a poor name for the concept it represents. The word made me think of “moran” at first (the dialect of idiots).

    I didn’t know purdah either, must depend on which publications one reads regularly.

    Eremitical seems rather bookish compared to hermitic (not to be confused with hermetic). Also, Stephen used it redundantly with seclusion, and rather incorrectly in the context of the coffee and the writing. I could be wrong, but I think the hermits shunned the concept of writing a book. He may be thinking of the medieval monks who copied manuscripts.

    I had the same thought as Travis: “This is the sort of bloody nonsense up with which I will not put.” [Attributed to Winston Churchill: Also, I believe that the whole no-preposition-at-the-end has been relaxed, in the sense that there cases in which it is acceptable, even called for (case in point). As shown, these tend to be cases where the preposition is part of an idiom (called for, put up with). But I didn’t even notice your usage in the first sentence, it seems to have become a widespread idiolect.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: