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April 28, 2010

Musings on word creation: bulletizable

My new favorite mot du jour: bulletizable.

Although the New York Times' article (hilariously titled "We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint") shows it as "bullet-izable," I think it was probably more fluidly spoken than the hyphen suggests... (considering things that are hyphenated frequently are words by themselves and "izable" is not a word... it's not even a suffix).

We make up words all the time. I know I do. It's convenient. (It's also very American, considering some languages have governing bodies that suggest which words can be considered official, e.g. Académie Française, whose rulings are considered advisories to the public.*) Linguists suggest that we make up words because better alternatives are not readily available. English is a great language for spontaneous word creation because of its roots in other languages and its use of prefixes and suffixes. Our ever-changing world provides the atmosphere for English speakers and our predilection for word creation because frequently new words arise from situations where existing words cannot be used in a meaningful way. (I also think that it's possible that words are created for simplicity's sake and out of, *sigh* the bane of human existence, laziness. An example of a word created out of laziness: at work, when someone creates a PDF document they say they "PDFed" it, turning the acronym that's somehow become a noun [PDF] into a regular verb. I get shivers down my spine just thinking about it.)

The speaker of this new word is a highly ranked general in the Army. His word creation suggests a better word was not available. Or perhaps he wanted to avoid a lengthier phrase...

He said, “Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.”

I find it amusing that a word was created ("bulletizable") to sum up what would have been a lengthy phrase ("Some problems in the world cannot be reduced to items in a bulleted list"). Personally I think the funniest part is that the speaker created a single word to sum up a phrase... isn't that like making a bullet? :-)

It was probably spur of the moment word creation and I doubt the speaker considered that he was making up a word to succinctly describe a familiar concept traditionally described using words that do not suggest actual bullets (e.g., itemize, outline, enumerate, etc.). But using words like those suggested here might not get at the significance of the actual bullet points themselves. Another word might not make his point. (Oh that's a hilarious pun, if you think about it! ... Never mind. Don't laugh. I'm awful at jokes.)

Or perhaps, when interviewed, the speaker already spat out the verb of his sentence ("are") and its negating adverb ("not") and paused to search for a word that suited the verb. Perhaps he circled through the options of itemize, outline, and enumerate, or even other words. Perhaps finding no suitable match for the uttered verb, he thusly created his new word. This seems less likely, but it's a thought.

So while we'll never know whether the word was created out of need or laziness, we have a new word: bulletizable. This gives rise to the possibility of derivatives: bulletize, bulletizing, bulletizer, unbulletizable, rebulletize, disbulletizing, and perhaps even bulletizability, among others.

Those dreaded bullets, pointing to you from across the room, are proof that you (or at least your braincells) can be killed by pixels clustered to exemplify a point of interest, a point, a bullet point. Oh, those bulleted lists, the < ul > of yesteryear (that's "unordered list" for anyone not up on their HTML skills). If they're unordered, then why do they frequently get reordered or called out by presenters in a particular order?

I digress...

The dictionary definition might read
bulletizable, adj. (bool-it-i-zuh-buhl)
1. capable of being turned into a bullet
2. capable of being itemized in a bulleted list

Thanks to Dennis for bringing my attention to "bullet-izable."

*For the record, I have nothing against the French for the Académie Française. Je parle français et j'aime bien la langue. If only I had more time to practice...

Posted by KarissaKilgore at April 28, 2010 7:44 PM


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