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That’s Not a Word

My friend Rick Valelly recently ate at a restaurant that used to be the commissary for Paramount Studios in Queens, N.Y. He kindly sent me a photo of half of the back of the menu (all that could fit on his phone, I think):

IMG_0989

The reason he sent it to me is the first word in the third line. There is no definition for intrical in dictionary.com, merriam-webster.com, or The Oxford English Dictionary. However, there is one at Urban Dictionary: “A word that doesn’t exist. Usually used by dumbasses who really mean to use the word integral.”

My interest in the the notion of a word not existing has led me to Twitter account called That’s Not A Word (@nixicon). The proprietor trawls Twitter for “not a word,” “not a real word,” and similar phrases and retweet the results. I find them fascinating:

Word
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To be sure, I get where Robin K. and the rest are coming from. It wouldn’t do for everyone to be like Lewis Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty, who tells Alice: “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

And I admit to being vexed by some nonwords, or new words. A colleague forwarded me this email from a student:

Hi!

I forgot to mention in class today but we have our National Tournament next week!! Unfortunalety that means I won’t be in class Wednesday or Friday.  Here is my excusal, I can print it out too if you would like!

See you Wednesday!

There’s so much in those six sentences: the rampaging exclamation points, of course, and also a comma splice and the typo “unfortunalety,” which I find oddly charming. But my colleague sent it because it and many other notes raised a question for her: “So when did ‘excusal’ become a word in everyday language?” I honestly don’t know, and I also don’t know what the heck is wrong with “excuse.”

Getting back to the question of whether intrical exists: Based on the numerous examples one can find on the language website Wordnik.com, the answer would seem to be yes.

  • “believe they would be more likely to become long-term subscribers if it was an intrical part in following the show.” The Economics of Playboy: Ask Your Questions Here – Freakonomics Blog – NYTimes.com
  • “NATE IRWIN (ph), QUAY’S CLUB MEMBER: No, I did not, due to the fact that this club has been a big intrical part of my life.” CNN Transcript November 3, 2007
  • “It seems to me that Summit only cares that the main 3 are in the movie and could really care less about the others, even though they make up an intrical part of the cast as well.” PerezHilton.com
  • “He said he makes it a point to go out and talk to airmen and civilians who are also an intrical part of the organization and ask them what their views are.”Minot Daily News
  • “Fernandez said that Segal played an intrical part in getting her arrested.” Central Florida News 13 – Latest Headlines
  • “Quinn is learning the offense and will be a more intrical part of our offense as he develops.” The Denver Post: News: Breaking: Local
  • “Schmaltz says the volunteers play in intrical part at the office.” “Campaigning for Your Vote” on KFYR-TV North Dakota’s NBC News Leader

Evidently, intrical is a portmanteau (a word invented by Lewis Carroll, by the way) of integral, intricate, and intrinsic that a number of people find amenable. It starts showing up regularly in the Google Books database in the 1990s, as in this sentence from The Handbook of Environmental Health and Safety (1996): “Municipal Sludge Reuse and Disposal Sludge management is an intrical part of municipal sewage disposal.”

In 1995, a North Carolina woman named Betty Williams tried to collect money from her ex-husband, Bennie Williams, on the basis of a “separation agreement” in which he acknowledged “that the resumption of marital relationship shall have no effect on the payment of this amount as his obligation to pay said amount was and remains an intrical part of this property settlement and for that reason not modifiable and not affected by the resumption.”

The Court of Appeals of North Carolina ruled against Mrs. Williams. The majority opinion noted:

The appearance of the incomprehensible expression “intrical” in the Agreement creates further confusion. While the drafter … may have wished to write “integral,” that is not what the Agreement states. The expression “intrical” is not contained in Webster’s Third New International Dictionary (1966); it is therefore impossible to assign a meaning to it absent testimony from the drafter as to whether “integral” or some other word was contemplated.

The question of whether intrical exists is perfect for discussing over sherry on these bleak winter afternoons. But what happened to the Williamses suggests that, for the time being, one had best leave it out of pre-nups.

 

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