Coachers, crusters and typers who sconed, signatured and directioned
The Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 11th edition, says that in Australia a coacher is a “docile cow or bullock used as a decoy to attract wild cattle” while Macquarie Dictionary (an Australian reference) also says that a coacher and coach are both people who coach athletes, among others. Hmmm, I lived in California, Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico – the middle of ranch country – without encountering, nary even hearing of, a coacher (cow). To boot, coachers were definitely absent on the American football gridiron, baseball diamond and basketball court.
Here we have seen all of these words, and many more, in our archives and log files. One of my favo(u)rite Tansa editors, in a discussion about English’s amorphous parts of speech, wrote back in an e-mail (Al actually noted that the original quote is from a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, thus Bill Watterston): Verbing weirds language!
Actually, checking with the different Websters, Oxfords, Collins and Cambridge confirms that “weirds” can be valid as a verb, but usually only in the informal phrase “to weird out”.
There is definitely a question of the parameters concerning derivatives. Can we really just add any affix to any word? Take the -er agent or agentive form, that is, an actor, employer, lover, maker, gambler, runner . . . these are fine. But what about typer, guider, flirter – do they mean something other than a typist, guide, flirt? It appears that the Oxfords, Webster’s 4th and Merriam-Webster’s 11th differ on some of these points.
And while we are considering these words, can one actually unmurder someone, or uncook something? Sure, from an innovative standpoint, inventing words and new meanings can be quite entertaining, for the writer and the reader. But usually they belong in quotation marks to show that we who use them are linguistically savvy and just want to put a creative twist on otherwise-very-dull text.
So much of editing doesn’t concern what is theoretically possible, but what is formally acceptable within the boundaries of writing well. Do we really need nailer when we already have nail gun (or nailgun) or could this be a highly specialized type of carpenter who does nothing but nail things?!?
I suppose to be economical and efficient we could say that a typist types documents and a typer types (to wit, classifies) them. Now that’s the spirit of linguistic economy and recycling.