It could be the fact that it is below zero outside here in Michigan or it could be the sniffles that I seem to have acquired in the past 24 hours. For whatever reason, I’ve been thinking about the word plogged.
I had a glimmer of hope that I could solve the mystery of plog now that The Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE) has gone digital. I knew that DARE did not contain plog or plogged as headwords, but I thought one of them might show up elsewhere in this amazing resource—in a quotation for another word, perhaps. But an advanced search of the full text of DARE came up with not a one (and if you’re interested in other regional variants for that expression, DARE provides “nary a one” and “nary one” as other options).
I have used the verb plog and the participial adjective plogged (which is, in fact, more useful than the verb) my entire life. I had never given it a second thought until about 10 years ago, when students brought the usage to my attention.
I was talking to the students in an introductory English linguistics course, and I apologized if I hadn’t responded to any of their emails, explaining that something had gone wrong with my inbox. What I actually said was, “I’m sorry if I haven’t responded to your email. My inbox is plogged.”
Some students looked surprised, but I wasn’t sure why, and then one asked, “What did you just say?” I repeated myself: “My inbox is plogged.” The student laughed and said, “That’s not a word!”
“Of course it’s a word,” I responded, and I turned to the rest of the class for confirmation. I got only confirmation of the student’s position that this was not a word.
As I explained in teacherly way from the front of the room, it is a blend of plug plus clog, hence plog. And the adjectival plogged was stronger than plugged or clogged; for example, if you have a really bad cold, your nose isn’t just plugged, it’s plogged. The students remained unpersuaded.
After class I returned to my office and checked the several major dictionaries there, and I couldn’t find plog. I talk often with students about how dictionaries don’t determine what counts as a “real word,” but the lack of confirmation of the existence of this word from multiple dictionaries, including the Oxford English Dictionary, and from 80 students was disconcerting.
I called my younger sister, as I was quite sure we had grown up with this word. I got her husband, who clarified, “It’s not a word, but Kate uses it all the time.”
I later talked to Kate, and it just so happened that my mother (who is from Michigan and has lived in the D.C. area for 50 years) was visiting her. Kate confirmed that she thought we had grown up with the word and asked my mother, who stated confidently, “I have never used that word”—loud enough that I could hear her. Kate got back on the phone and said, “Mom says she doesn’t know it, but I’m sure she used it when we were growing up. I mean, your nose can be plogged, or the toilet can be plogged.” Then I hear in the background my mother exclaim, “Well, of course the toilet can be plogged!”
The spell checker in WordPress has rejected the word plog throughout this post, underlining it each time with a red dotted line. And it may be that it is a Curzan-family blend, completely idiosyncratic—but I have a suspicion it is not.
I’m curious to hear from Lingua Franca readers whether any of you know and use the (in my humble opinion) wonderfully useful and evocative blend plog—and if so, where you’re from and the contexts in which you use the word. Here in the middle of winter, can your nose get plogged?Return to Top