Sombunall coinages become cult words

Since I have neologisms on the brain, I got to thinking of one coined by Robert Anton Wilson (in his book The New Inquisition, as far as I know): sombunall, meaning “some but not all”. Wilson intended it as “semantic hygiene”, a neo-Whorfian corrective to dangerous generalisation, or a sort of epistemological buffer.

The word hasn’t caught on widely. Google hits aren’t much of a metric, but sombunall’s count of <7.5k (when last I looked) shows its relative obscurity; on the OneLook dictionary aggregator only Urban Dictionary features it (nothing in the unabridged OED or Merriam-Webster). Maybe because some but not all isn’t so unwieldy in the first place, and plain old some does solid work albeit without explicitly emphasising the not-all bit.

Sombunall words are created equalI included sombunall in an early language-links post, but never adopted it habitually myself. Because of its limited use, the word remains strongly associated with Wilson, as do its relative mosbunall (“most but not all”) and the Discordian in-joke fnord, among others. This RAW fan site, for instance, is subtitled “Sombunall things Robert Anton Wilson”.

Reading Susan Sontag’s Against Interpretation, I came across one occasion when it would have been very convenient to have sombunall available in general circulation. From the short essay on Simone Weil:

Yet so far as we love seriousness, as well as life, we are moved by it, nourished by it. In the respect we pay to such lives, we acknowledge the presence of mystery in the world — and mystery is just what the secure possession of the truth, an objective truth, denies. In this sense, all truth is superficial; and some (but not all) distortions of the truth, some (but not all) insanity, some (but not all) unhealthiness, some (but not all) denials of life are truth-giving, sanity-producing, health-creating, and life-enhancing.

With his commitment to systematic uncertainty, or perhaps more accurately anti-certainty, Robert Anton Wilson would, I think, have enjoyed those lines. I have sombunall faith in this assumption, of course.

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6 Responses to Sombunall coinages become cult words

  1. languagehat says:

    In the first place, “sombunall” is a stupid-sounding “word” and I can’t imagine it being used by any substantial number of people. In the second place, it’s utterly unnecessary; you say “plain old some does solid work,” but in fact some is all that’s needed, since if it were all you’d say all. I fail to see how this is even a thing.

    • Stan says:

      Hat: It is a bit of a clunky coinage, and it feels more gimmicky or cute than I imagine was intended. Maybe Wilson was hoping that people exposed to another alternative would become more conscious, Korzybski-style, of how they use all loosely, e.g. for emphasis or a dubious generalisation.

  2. Oisín says:

    I wouldn’t be sure how to pronounce it (before I knew what it meant I’d have said the ‘o’ as in ‘not’ but I suppose it’s as in ‘some’). Either way it sounds to me like a medication. It could have its niche but I couldn’t see it catching on.

    • Stan says:

      Oisín: The phonetic ambiguity hadn’t occurred to me. I think he spelled it somebunall on some occasions, but words like sombre and somnambulist could easily bring the LOT vowel to mind if the word was seen out of context or without a gloss. I think it has a niche, but that niche is mostly restricted to a subset of Robert Anton Wilson readers.

    • alexmccrae1546 says:

      @Oisin: I get you drift re/ sombunall’s slight medicative air.
      “Take SOMBUNALL tonight… and sleep.” *

      * Of course, that would be SOMINEX’s signature advert catch-phrase, one of the more long-popular over-the-counter brand sleep aids.

      Frankly, the word “somnambulist” (earlier referenced by blogmeister Stan) immediately came to mind on first seeing this odd, unfamiliar word.

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