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The Meaning of Liff

Recently a friend of mine, knowing my interest in assigning names to ideas that don't yet have them (see Words Are Ideas), loaned me the book The Deeper Meaning of Liff, by Douglas Adams and John Lloyd. The authors' bright idea was the following.

In Life there are many hundreds of common experiences, feelings, situations and even objects which we will all know and recognize, but for which no word exists. On the other hand, the world is littered with thousands of spare words which spend their time doing nothing but loafing about on signposts pointing at places.

The main part of the book, then, is a dictionary of such words. Many of the definitions are just in fun, but some are genuine liffs.

Liff (lif) n.

A common object or experience for which no word yet exists.

Here's another one I liked.

Naugatuck (NAW-ger-tuk) n.

A plastic packet containing shampoo, mustard, etc., which is impossible to open except by biting off the corners.

I wouldn't have written this essay, though, if there hadn't been a particularly apt definition related to one of my favorite subjects, speed limits.

Grimbister (GRIM-bis-ter) n.

Large body of cars on a highway all traveling at exactly the speed limit because one of them is a police car.

* * *

I guess I have to add one more, since I keep thinking of it even though it's been years since I read the book.

Ely (EE-le) n.

The first, tiniest inkling you get that something, somewhere, has gone terribly wrong.


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@ May (2000)
o May (2006)