Wednesday, January 11

Coining a word is nerdy work.

I've always been curious about what to call myself as a lover of all things postal. While I enjoy Donovan's colorful "postal pervert" moniker, I didn't want to be too high on the Google search results for that one. "Philatelist" is the perfect word for postage stamp aficionados, but its popular meaning is too specific. I like stamps, but I also like mail art and letters and envelopes and stationery and post office buildings, which aren't understood to be covered under "philatelist."

As someone who majored in English, I have often claimed that I am qualified to make up words if I wanted. Usually they're of the "ricockulous" variety, but after I complained about the lack of a word for postal love one too many times, Dan told me to put that claimed-expertise to work, and then helped me look some etymologies up.

I liked the idea of keeping the love of all things postal-related to the already recognized love of postage stamps, which, as I said above, already has a word: philately. Turns out that since the postage stamp didn't exist until 1840, the word was coined by Georges Herpin in 1864 who was having the exact same problem I am in wanting a better word to describe his hobby. He joined the Greek "phil," meaning "brotherly love or affection" to the closest word to stamp in Greek that he could come up with, "ateleia," meaning lack of taxes, since stamps at the time were used for both postage and as proof of payment of duties.

Georges Herpin, that sexy, word-coining bastard.

Of course, since an official, government-sanctioned postal service wasn't invented in ancient Greece, there isn't exactly an ancient Greek word for it, either, so I'm back to where our friend Georges was, and needed to find something that fit the general idea I was going for.

I started translating mail-related words into Greek to see what popped up as possible fits. "Mail" transliterated roughly into "taxidromeio," which seemed too close to the literal translation of "philately." Once I transliterated the translation of "letter," though, I knew I had my answer. I had no idea that "epistle" was already based in Greek ("epystol"), and I already have affection for the word since it relates to a form of literature; an epistolary novel is one of my favorite genres.


Phil*e*pist*list (fil-ih-pis-list)
One who enjoys writing and receiving letters & postal mail.

No longer shall we have to describe our hobby as "well, I really love mail and mail art and pen pals and pretty stationery and making my own envelopes." We have a word! Go forth, my fellow philepistlists, and proliferate our new moniker!

Edited to add:
The incredibly smart Ashley came up with adding a resting syllable in there to make it "philepistolist." I like it being easier to say, but then the T will be pronounced instead of silent like in "epistle." What are your thoughts?


Dan said...

Regarding philepistlist versus philepistolist, also consider alternate versions of the word. Do you like philepistlia or philepistolia?

Mazzie said...

I like the resting syllable. It lends more to they etymology by making it sound more like epistle, IMHO.

Meighan said...

I agree with Mazzie. Also, it's less likely to make you accidentally spit at the person you're speaking to, thus turning them off from philepistolia...philepistoly...whatever, *that*, forever.

Mazzie said...

fill e PIST o list?

Dana said...

love it! And with the resting syllable, it "pistol" sounds, to me, like "postal", which just adds to the glory of the whole word.
Congrats on coming up with a great word! I plan on using it widely.

Valerie said...

How about philatophile? :)

amber said...

I loved this: "well, I really love mail and mail art and pen pals and pretty stationery and making my own envelopes." That's me! I can't wait to use the newly coined word (I like the resting syllable too). It's awesome. Totally geeking out with you. :) So nice to "meet" you today through blog comments!