With the amount of words used everyday for description and communication, it's difficult to believe that there are holes in our vocabulary where certain real events, actions or items cannot be described. On this edition of "That's What They Say," host Rina Miller discusses these "lexical gaps" with Professor Anne Curzan of the University of Michigan.
"It [lexical gap] is a space in the lexicon, in the vocabulary, where we don't have one word to describe something. So, for example, we don't have one word in English to talk about 'spicy-hot.' If you say 'The dish is hot,' people will say, 'Is it spicy-hot, or hot-hot, or temperature-hot?' Because 'hot' is ambiguous, we don't have a word that differentiates," says Curzan.
Other such lexical gaps which cause confusion in every day language include the ambiguity behind what to call the first decade of the 21st century, or a male-lover. Sometimes, the only way to overcome this gap is to create a "sniglet," as Anne Curzan explains.
"Rich Hall, who was a comedian on HBO's Not Necessarily the News, came up with the word 'sniglet,' which was a word that should be a word, and should be in the dictionary. And he came up with lots of 'sniglets' including 'musquirt,' which is the liquid in the mustard bottle that comes out before the mustard does."
--Austin Davis, Michigan Radio Newsroom