Slang ‘helmer’ and the fun of new words

I have a couple of new posts up at Macmillan Dictionary Blog. First, The fun of new words considers the pleasure we get from playing with words, letters and language, with special focus on neologisms:

Wordplay, in a word, is fun. It can break ice and break conventions, exercise the mind and stretch the imagination. Language, like physical play, is a medium through which we can indulge our creative instincts. Some people channel this into inventing entire languages; more commonly it manifests in our love of coining and using new words. . . .

Portmanteaus are an especially popular type of new word. Here, much of the groundwork has already been laid in the form of two or more existing words. There is a surreal kind of entertainment in seeing words joined improbably together, and when newspaper headlines join in the game, these blends spread all the faster. [more]

Next, Helmer at the helm sketches the development of helm from its origin as a nautical term to later senses that have nothing directly to do with steering a ship:

Inevitably, the word has developed metaphorical uses. At the helm means in charge, and you can be at the helm of a government, business, sports team, film production, and so on. Words such as steer, saddle, and pilot have broadened similarly, from navigation and transport to more figurative senses: a steering group could be in the saddle guiding the direction of a pilot project. . . .

I’m especially taken by a Hollywood slang usage:

Helmer in particular interests me. Most commonly it appears as a surname, but in US English it has become a synonym for film (or TV) director. I see this usage especially in film reviews and reporting, for example in the Hollywood Reporter (“the helmer’s 1978 horror classic”) and Variety (“the helmer switches to color”).

Helmer appears in Variety‘s slanguage dictionary, which contains what Julian Gough, in a comment, describes as “an internally consistent version of English that reads like the snappy, jazzy dialogue in a Howard Hawks script”.

You can read the rest here, or browse my archive of Macmillan articles.

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5 Responses to Slang ‘helmer’ and the fun of new words

  1. John Cowan says:

    For some reason, helm (verb) and helmer upset me, a sort of etiolated word rage, I suppose.

  2. Stan says:

    John: Some derivations just rub us up the wrong way. You’d best stay away from the film reviews on Variety.com!

  3. Given the nature of old warships I wonder that Quarterdecking hasn’t entered the vocabulary!

  4. Stan says:

    Your suspicions were correct, Jams: it looks as though quarterdecking has a military slang sense synonymous with “getting smoked”. No sign of the verb in any dictionary yet, though.

  5. Ah but nit in the sense I would have imagined, the quarterdeck being the preserve of officers on old warships (except the likes of the helmsmen and quartermaster – the navy, not the army meaning)

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