New Words for the New World

Paul Crenshaw

When your sleeves bunch up while putting on your coat it’s called a scrauntlet, or malsleevance. Gripping the shirt sleeve to keep it from bunching is called cuffling.

Saying the same word at the same time as somebody else is a jinxing; trying to get past someone at the elevator door is a juggling, a side-step, a beshuffling.

Not getting enough likes on social media is being screenied, and when a less important post than yours gets more shares it’s an inter-rage.

Your daughter’s first steps are a jottering and her first tooth is a trying and the way her fine hair disapears when it gets wet is a willowing. Perffluvium is a baby’s new smell. Morlorn the feeling on the first day of November when the last leaves rattle toward the forest floor. Azura’s the color of the sky when it’s so blue it hurts to look at it, on days you feel you could float away on the wind.

Parcheron was the feel of your grandmother’s ancient papery skin and blemings were the bruises she wore around the IV needles. Emphysematic was how she sounded in her last days and dreaden was the feeling you got when her breath caught in her throat—airfloat was how you felt every time she drew another.

Corrified is when you hear the screech of tires as your children are playing in the front yard or anytime there’s an amber alert, breaking news, a school shot up, which is a shredding, of heart and hope.

When you fall out of love after 20 years it’s a dawning. Deciding to stay together because it’s too hard to move on is a shielding, and the weeks you slept on the couch while wondering what to do is called a caesura.

When the kids never call from college, that’s a sylon, and when the phone rings late at night that’s a voidwind. When you drink too much remembering how small they seemed on the first day of school that’s maundering, and the day they were born is a gripping in the same way their tiny hands held your smallest finger.

We need a word for loneliness that doesn’t rely on the word alone. That doesn’t sound like love. Say it’s azura. Or morlorn. Loss isn’t the keys you can’t find but the hook where hers used to hang. There’s a reason the heart is the symbol for love, a reason we say it’s somewhere near the lungs.

Nulling is the terrible news we hear every day and shaddering the silence that won’t let us sleep. Intercurses are the words we say when the horribleness won’t end and begrief the feeling after the intercurses, when the sylon sets in and the voidwind comes down.

We’re always searching for the right language, the right words. I don’t know if we need more words or a better understanding of our insides. I don’t know what new world we’ve wandered into. Only that sometimes I feel hapshaken. Or contumbled. I don’t know which way the sky lies. I don’t have the words I need and so make them up: dolorment and bewhining and love-drunk. Hope-filled, heart-hurt, joybilant. We’re always inventing new words, always brushing up against places we never thought we’d be, whether it’s our own mortality or all the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

We don’t need a word for those. That’s just breathing. It’s walking around in our thin skins, our hearts holding at the point blood begins, at the place in the body we store all the emotions we can’t explain.

Paul Crenshaw’s essay collection This One Will Hurt You is forthcoming from The Ohio State University Press. Other work has appeared in Best American Essays, Best American Nonrequired Reading, The Pushcart Prize, anthologies by W.W. Norton and Houghton Mifflin, Oxford American, Glimmer Train, Ecotone, North American Review and Brevity, among others.