or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Monday, January 16, 2012

Card Games

Yesterday I got a comment, not on
this posting
specifically but on a topic that lies at the intersection of my two blogs. Vanessa wrote,

I was recommended to approach you with my question about the meaning of the word "OLFCARTOPHILE". Is it - as my research suggests - a lover of perfume cards (pre-scented or otherwise):

I came across this term while researching the history of perfume cards on a French website, and assumed it would work in either language.

It's a neologism, something invented to fill a perceived lack in the language; but it's pretty close to being a nonce word, which is unlikely to enter wider circulation because it's so idiosyncratic and, let us face it, not especially useful, not an everyday word even for a perfume fanatic.

If it serves a purpose, all well and good: but I could never use it, because it's not very well constructed. It is obviously a portmanteau — a macaronic, in fact – of Latin "olfacere" (the source of English "olfaction" and "olfactory"), French "carte" (because it appears to be a French coinage), and Greek "-phile", a lover of something. Therefore, it would certainly mean "a lover of perfumed cards".

But I don't think you can trim "olfacere", or its English "olfaction/olfactory", down to "olf-", because that isn't how the word is made: it's composed of "olere", "to emit an odour", plus "facere", "to make". If you want to deconstruct the word into reusable pieces, you really need to keep those pieces intact, which would give you the unwieldy but more defensible "olfactocartophile".

I think it's a nonce word because Googling it gives only 37 unique matches, and a lot of those seem to refer back to one another. It appears on this page of coinages related mostly to perfume, so I'm guessing that someone was just having a bit of fun with the language, in the same way that some people like to devise far-fetched phobias (some of these are silly, and many of these are patently ridiculous: who on Earth has geniophobia, an all-consuming and irrational fear of chins?). It hasn't caught on because it's not essential or even particularly useful. If you think you could get some use out of it, I'm not going to try to stop you, and I don't think anyone else will, either. But it really isn't a very good word.


Blogger Vanessa said...

Thanks so much for addressing my question in such detail! I found your post interesting on a number of levels - "nonce word" is great, for starters, while I have also learnt the term "macaronic".

I am sure you are right that "olfcartophile" is fundamentally silly. As you point out, it is rather like those phobias for everything under the sun, including - I don't doubt - "a fear of long, manufactured words to describe spurious phobias".

I coined my own spin off alternative word for fragrance blotters - "olfcartes" - with tongue firmly in cheek as you can imagine. It is not as though we don't have a few alternatives to "blotter" anyway.

Thursday, January 19, 2012 9:24:00 PM  

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