NOMENKLATURA?

Ben Zimmer of Language Log has a funny demolition of a Candace Murphy article decrying, yes, “abuses and misuses” of the English language. I’ll let you enjoy the silly stuff over there; here I want to highlight one paragraph about finding new words and usages on the internet:

That’s where [Oxford lexicographer Erin] McKean has found words like farb (not authentic, badly done), nomenklatura (non-literally; by analogy), drabble (a short story of 100 words or fewer), haxie (a hack for the Macintosh operating system) and swancho (a combination poncho/sweater).

Farb, drabble, haxie, and swancho were new to me, and their definitions plausible; nomenklatura was an old friend (being a Russian term for the Soviet system in which the Communist Party would make appointments to government posts), but I just couldn’t see how it could be used to mean ‘non-literally; by analogy’ or how it would get there. “I don’t mean that literally, I mean it nomenklatura, dude!” Nope, didn’t work for me. So I wrote Erin to get some clarification, and she explained that she had been talking about a nonliteral use of the word nomenklatura itself, “that is, one that referred to people that weren’t Russians, but were metaphorically similar to the Russian nomenklatura.” Ah, all was clear! But I fear readers of “Inside Bay Area” may be misled into trying to use it as an adverb, and it will all end in tears and Safire.

Comments

  1. I for one intend to get this new use started. “I’m so hungry I could eat a horse! Nomenklatura, of course.”

  2. Hmm, and I can already see the folk etymologies coming. It could be as interesting as the “no soap, radio!” non-joke.

  3. Ben Zimmer says:

    Thanks for clearing that up. I was rather baffled by the “non-literally” gloss too. But I’m sure the folks at Literally, A Web Log would appreciate a good replacement for the non-literal sense of “literally”, so why not nomenklatura?

  4. Of course the replacement for the non-literal sense of “literally” would have to be “non-nomenklatura”.
    No, wait, better yet, we could work some folk morphology and start using “menklatura”. “I was so embarrassed, I menklatura just died!” Oh yeah. That’s how languages evolve.

  5. That’s… that’s so beautiful I could cry. Menklatura, of course.
    Wait, wait… feminists might insist on womenklatura!

  6. *grins at Hat*
    I can just see it happening…and if nomenklatura would end in Safire, what fate is there for menklatura?
    I consider myself fairly up on web-speak, and the only other one on that list that I knew (because we learned nomenklatura in Russian government and culture, I don’t think I’ve seen the purported web use) is drabble. Drabble is fairly common in the writing communities and groups, because it is a short snippet or scene that comes to mind, and writing them well, capturing the moment in less than 100 words, is a challenge.

  7. Brings whole lot of possibilities, too, if you consider actual meaning in Russian, which, mostly, is “assortment”, and Latin root of it.

  8. Wow, what a great site, I’ve bookmarked it! Thanks, Tatyana. And I didn’t know that the original Roman nomenclator was (in the OED’s words) “A servant whose duties were to inform his master of the names of the people he encountered, esp. when canvassing for office. Also: one in charge of guest lists and seating arrangements at banquets.” The things you learn!

  9. Also: one in charge of guest lists and seating arrangements at banquets.
    Which reminded me of this passage in the Satyricon
    (Petronius has nomenculator here, by the way):
    “For when the tables had been cleared with a flourish of music, three white hogs were brought in, hung with little bells and muzzled. One, so the nomenclator informed us, was a two-year-old, another three, and the third six. For my part, I thought they were learned pigs, come in to perform some of those marvelous tricks you see in circuses. But Trimalchio put an end to my surmises by saying, “Which of the three will you have dressed for supper right away? Farmyard cocks and pheasants are for country folks; my cooks are used to serving up calves boiled whole.”

  10. Right, in modern Russian nomenklatura is basically a list of names, normally those of products/goods a producer, reseller or retailer offers. (Can be understood as “product range,” too.) If the list couples names with prices, it’s a prays-list or, less commonly now, preyskurant.
    Haxie is a gem. A 5-foot cute redhead pixie hacker. Sounds like a petty putdown of both MacOS and males given to hacking (haxing) it.

  11. Ben Zimmer says:

    I feel like I’m seeing variations on nomenklatura everywhere I look now. Mickey Kaus uses Timesenklatura in his latest takedown of the L.A. Times.

  12. Ben Zimmer says:

    Another nomenklatura blend, appearing in a post-9/11 column in the Guardian: “It is business as usual among the commentklatura.”

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