Monday, August 3, 2009

discombobulate

Airports in recent years have learned how to put the 'travail' back in travel, so it can be refreshing to land in a smaller airport that, though still ever vigilant as to shoe bombs and Total War toothpaste attacks and the like, still manage to maintain a bit of whimsy about the whole ordeal. Last weekend, as my sister and her two young children and I were gathering ourselves after running the security gauntlet at the Milwaukee airport, we looked up to find that we were putting our shoes back on in the 'Recombobulation Area'. The word itself lightened the experience no end--in part, I think, because it humorously put us in solidarity with all the other travelers who had passed beneath this sign before us.

Of course, we all instinctively know what it means to 'recombobulate', even if we have never heard the word before. It means 'to put oneself back together again'. We know it because we have at least a passing acquaintance with the antonym discombobulate, which means something like 'to confuse, to take apart, to scatter'. I know that the 'dis-' negates the 'combobulate', and com is probably, 'with' or 'together' or something like that, but what's the 'bob' in aid of? I'm sure that 'bob' is not the root of this word, but it is a funny old sound in the midst of this very latinate sounding word...Shall we see where it comes from?

Hmm--I guess this is a first. Apparently, it's a made up word. FreeDictionary.com posits it as a possible alternative to 'discompose', but, not satisfied with this, I found this interesting post by someone who has walked this path ahead of me...

18 comments:

  1. I love made-up words! It's like the back-formation from "uncouth" to give us "couth," though I don't think anyone uses that in earnest.

    I think "discombobulate" is itself a made up word, so it only makes sense to continue messing with it to make "recombobulation."

    Beautiful word. Thanks for that!

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  2. Yes, these -bobulate words are very fun. As Charles Hodgson has it, whose Podictionary I took my ultimate answer from, discombobulate

    first appeared in the 1830s and took a little while to get itself together so as not be in a state of confusion as to whether it was discombobracate, discombobberate, or discombobulate.

    Interesting how no one wanted to part with the 'bob' sound, which is apparently the part that everyone knew was 'just right'.

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  3. I was highly gruntled to read your post.
    =================
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
    http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

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  4. It's very couth of you to say so, Peter.

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  5. Your posts never fail to appoint, Seana.

    v-word: sirskin, a hide which was much "en vogue" during the French Revolution.

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  6. Thank you Marco, praise is always dundant.

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  7. That was weird--I'm using a computer at work and apparently signed on as another person entirely for that last post...

    Let's hope that this comment will recombobulate me.

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  8. It's very couth of you to say so, Peter.

    My manners are descript, aren't they?
    ==============
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
    http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

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  9. Nice word, Seana!

    It opens up a lot of other interesting questions too. Just what do we consider "made-up" words? At some point, each and every word ever spoken was made up.

    It's also interesting b/c normally "made-up" words aren't viewed in the best light. But this one seems to be enjoyed by all. I wonder if that's just because it's been in use for 170 years.

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  10. Yes, it was a little disconcerting (and there's another one for our sub-theme--what would 'concerting' be, exactly?)to find that I couldn't just go back and find the roots of it all laid out. In fact it is much more like a word that our word verifier would throw out for us, or, since I've just come back from another Finnegan's Wake gathering, something Joyce would have put together. Although I think Joyce would have been more canny about it. This word really seems to have come about because it is pleasing to the ear, and sounds enough like a Latin root word to seem convincingly authoritative.

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  11. Seana, it's not the first time one of your other personalities takes over.
    How's Suzie these days?

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  12. Isn't there a line in Wodehouse somewhere where he says something like, "while not disgruntled he was far from been gruntled."

    Except Wodehouse wrote it funny.

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  13. Marco, I'd tell you Suzie was dead, but I doubt that would put an end to her presence.

    Adrian, I'd say it would be hard not to write gruntled funny.

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  14. This was a new one for me, although as you said, I guessed at the original word's meaning from your narration.

    My own favourite made-up word is KEMPT, from unkempt. It has got a neat and trim sound.

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  15. You know, I would have thought that kempt was a real word, but Sucharita, of course you're right. It is, according to the Free Dictionary, a 'back-formation'. Nice to have a term for this.

    Unkempt means 'uncombed'. So I'm not really sure why there wasn't an original 'kempt', but we've made up for that now, haven't we?

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  16. Actually, I see that Nate used the term 'back-formation' in the very first comment, but as usual, I wasn't paying enough attention to detail.

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  17. I am going to go out of my way to get routed through Milwaukee the next time I go back East. I need to get recombobulated asap. Thanks for sharing!

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  18. Yes, somehow it's a very friendly sign. I thought I might post the picture, but I thought it would be awhile before my sister could send me the picture digitally. Other people have put it on the web, though.

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