It was a little over a year ago that my friends and I became obsessed with the board game known as Settlers of Catan. We would play this game all the time, pretty much regardless of all our other commitments. And possibly as a result of our incessant playing of this game, we began to talk funny. The sheep ports that we created became “shorts.” The roads we had made out of bricks became “broads.” The sweet castles that we built were, you guessed it, “swastles.” Every time we played, we made up more and more ridiculous word combinations, which we affectionately called wombos.
Eventually these wombos spread amongst all our friends and we were using them in any and all possible situations. Generally the wombos were created from a noun and an adjective, like “great story” or “grory,” “sweet hat” and “swat,” or a “penguin ball” that we named Paul (it’s a homophone for the wombo). Sometimes we even thought up triple word combos (twombos). And every now and then we’d get a little crazy and start wombo-ing verbs with nouns, and “running to the park” became “rark.” Yes, that happened. Unsurprisingly, all our talking in these word combinations got to be confusing and pretty ridiculous. There were times when no one knew what we were talking about, even when we were talking to people who knew all about wombos. So we came to the consensus that we would stop, and for the most part we did. They are still used occasionally, and mostly as jokes, but on the whole we learned our lesson about wombos. They don’t make sense, and they’re kind of stupid.
Now I hear them everywhere. Months after they were cool. Wombos like spectacularge, slanket, and recipeasy, all of which I have heard in recent advertising. Fortunately, the wombos that I have heard do frequently have a context. It’s kind of like the episode of Scrubs where JD writes the play “Dr. Acula,” then smushes the two words together to reveal “Dracula” — the words are presented before the wombo.
Fads always seem to reveal themselves in the same way. Hipsters started in Portland and in Brooklyn separately (or something like that — my hipster history is a little lacking), and now they’re all over the county. I’d like to think that wombos started in South Bend, then spread out. They became more absurd in South Bend, and soon will become more absurd across the country. Then they will die, only to be used ironically by the hipsters. But what if that’s not how it plays out?
What if they become a real, accepted way to talk? I’ve lived through wombos as a primary means of communication. It’s fun at first, but then becomes more and more confusing. They are not a good way to communicate. I’m worried that soon we’re going to enter 1984 territory, except that instead of not having synonyms or antonyms, we just won’t have words. And even though the primary motivation behind Newspeak in 1984 is to prevent people from insulting the government, the outcome is basically the same. The language, our beautiful English language, gets downgraded into a language where we just seek the fastest, most ridiculous sounding way to say something, even if our point is completely unintelligible.
It’s also possible that I am entirely overreacting, and that wombos are just a fun way to goof around with friends (or anyone, really). They sound funny and make us laugh, and laughing is fun. But I also know that people will look for the easiest way to accomplish something, even it makes it difficult for everyone else. And that’s not me being cynical, that’s me working with people daily and having firsthand experience with how lazy they can be. So if wombos can help, or worse, encourage people to say things in even less time, then I have no doubt people will use them. We did.
But maybe, just maybe, people will come to realize what my friends and I came to realize. That as silly and amusing as they are, you have to use them sparingly. Otherwise, everyone hates you.
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