This morning, when the Supreme Court announced their decision unholding Obamacare (sorry, that’s the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act), I learned of it via a text from my nephew. His text, in its entirety: “Hoopsatorem!” And I knew exactly what had happened.
This particular nephew lived with us for awhile, while he was attending BYU. One day, we were driving up to school together, and we saw the marquee outside Provo High School. On that marquee was one word: “Hoopsatorem.” We were deeply puzzled by this enigmatic message. Hoopsatorem? What the heck were the administrators of good old Provo High trying to say? We finally decided that it was simply an expression of youthful enthusiasm and animal high spirits. Someone was having a good day, was all. To express their exuberance and good cheer, they’d invented this wonderful word: Hoopsatorem! Yay!
It became an all-purpose exclamation of delight for us all. Our whole family used it. “I got an A on that test today! Hoopsatorem!” “That cute guy finally asked me out! Hoopsatorem!” “My new play got great reviews! Hoopsatorem!” “We’re having pizza for dinner tonight? Hoopsatorem!”
My oldest son burst the bubble. It wasn’t an gleeful exclamation at all. It was informational. Provo High was playing Orem High in basketball. The word wasn’t ‘Hoopsatorem.’ It was ‘Hoops, at Orem.”
But at that point, it didn’t matter. ‘Hoopsatorem’ had become part of our family’s personal vernacular. We still use it. And so, when my nephew heard the wonderful news about the SCOTUS ruling, he texted ‘Hoopsatorem’ and I knew exactly what he meant by it. And was, of course, equally delighted by the news.
That’s the way language works. We get to make up words. In Norwegian, you kind of have to make words up. It’s a language full of compound words, and grammatically, you sometimes cram two words together to convey some very specific idea or thought. ‘Sykehuset’ for example–combining ‘sick’ and ‘house’: a ‘sickhouse’, i.e. ‘hospital.’ German does that too: ‘Schadenfreude,’ ‘gesamtkunstwerk.’
But even within families or groups of friends, we often have invented words, insider language, like hoopsatorem. I’m part of a San Francisco Giants chat group, and we often use old player games as a kind of code. “The guy was getting in my grille, I stood up to him, and he went all Hal Lanier on me.” If you know who Hal Lanier was, you know what happened.
When I was in high school, my friends and I had our own invented language, proto-hipsters that we were. A ‘pube’ for example, was someone acting immaturely. A ‘bloat’ was a fat guy, and a ‘maciate’ was a skinny guy. ‘Specs’ were teachers and ‘b’ meant a thug, a bully. (Not ‘b’ for bully; ‘b’ for the B-wing of our school, where they tended to congregate.) ‘Dub’ meant to drink until vomiting. I didn’t drink, but I knew a good word to describe it.
I do this when teaching playwriting all the time, invent words, invent terms. The other day I was talking to a young playwright. I thought his play used too many poop jokes. I found myself saying “you need to depoopify your dialogue.”
As long as it communicates, it’s a word. That’s the rule. And it’s something to celebrate. We should, in fact, celebrate the diversity and flexibility of our language almost as much as . . . great Supreme Court decisions. Hoopsatorem!