Lexicon-ometer: the versatility of the -ometer suffix
Please note: this blog post discusses language that some readers may find offensive.
Words are basically Legos: infinitely combinable parts that can make whatever word you need when composing your latest love sonnet or insane rant. The suffix -ometer is one of the most versatile building blocks, allowing for humorous measurement of anything in the multiverse.
The earliest recorded examples, including gasometer, came from French in the 18th century. The first example that was purely English set the stage for thousands of humorous coinages to come. A 1758 letter of art historian Horatio Walpole includes an inventive coinage that is probably useful to marriage counselors: ‘While I have so much quicksilver left, I fear my passionometer will be susceptible of sudden changes.’
In addition to straight-faced, practical terms such as barometer and respirometer, English has been producing humorous, goofy coinages ever since, such as drunkometer, foolometer, and obscenometer. Some coinages (impeachometer, truthometer, guiltometer) aren’t exactly common words but are far from one-offs. Others are rarer and weirder: my kind of words.
The following examples have been liberated from the dark dungeons of the internet, proving that people are capable of measuring anything – if not with a scientific instrument, then with our unscientific language.
My favorite current TV show is The Americans, which features more types of duplicity than I could have imagined, and I’m an imaginatively duplicitous fella. I was inspired to write this blog post when I saw this passage in a review:
… Philip and Elizabeth’s marriage has hit bottom, which also has the clarifying effect of showing us how legitimate their marriage is. On the ‘for better or for worse’ spectrum, having your wife accuse you of wanting to sleep with a college student because you’re not getting any action at home maxes out the for-worse-o-meter.
Million-dollar idea: Hand out a for-worse-o-meter at every wedding, and when it hits the red zone, you’re automatically referred to a divorce lawyer.
I feel like I have a finely calibrated dessert-ometer, but some sugar-detectors are more specific. As @ChrisJER69 tweeted, ‘I think we may need a custard-tart-ometer… or a gif of the Sesame Street Count… TWELVE! Twelve custard tarts! Mmm ha ha ha ha ha!’ This tweet is vampirism at its finest.
This word suggests plunging to the bottom of the ocean, or perhaps the depths of the Earth, where hollow-earthers believe we might find a prehistoric zoo or some other hooey. But I’m afraid the example I found is more surface-focused and cleavage-related. An article from The Sun asks, ‘HOW J-LOW CAN YOU GO? We rate eight daring dresses with our plunge-o-meter – but can they match Jennifer Lawrence’s revealing style?’ Now there’s a riddle for the Sphinx, if the Sphinx were addicted to tabloids.
I wrote a book whose sales, sadly, were recorded on a different sort of plunge-o-meter. I think this is bullshit, but maybe I need to read Jodie Archer and Matthew Jockers’ The Bestseller Code: Anatomy of the Blockbuster Novel. This enticing tome was discussed on Omaha.com:
Jockers and Archer used Tusker for experiments that fall into the fields of text mining and computational text analysis. The specifics are, of course, quite complicated. But, broadly speaking, it’s pretty simple: The authors turned Tusker into a ‘best-seller-ometer.’
FYI, Tusker is a supercomputer, not a person. Bonus FYI: Tusker sets off my rise-of-the-machines-ometer.
Here’s another easily misunderstood term. It appears to measure the scarcity or abundance of raccoons, who can ruin a tea party or meditation circle, but it’s a little more specific than that. As described in the Wilkes (North Carolina) Journal-Patriot:
For the MerleFest week, Ray’s Weather is using a ‘raccoon-o-meter’ to illustrate its weather index. This, of course, is in honor of the festival’s raccoon mascot, ‘Flattop.’ According to the website, five raccoons means, ‘I’ve been waiting for this MerleFest day for 20 years!’ One raccoon means, ‘Thank goodness for the Walker Center, Pit, Lounge, Dance and Traditional stages.’
So this raccoon-o-meter is really a Flattop-o-meter with no relationship to Rocket Raccoon from Guardians of the Galaxy or that smoky-eyed critter who keeps invading your secluded cabin.
Religious beliefs can be weird, including my fervent belief that I am a holy incarnation of Batman crossed with Thor. Please respect my beliefs. Sadly, such sacred truths as mine are often scorned by others. For example, @smegasaurus_rex wrote to @Scientology, ‘Don’t worry though, I insult all religions equally. But yours is without doubt up there with the Mormons on the batshit-ometer scale.’ That’s harsh, but keep in mind that batshit (which has referred to craziness since at least the early 1970s) is always in the eye of the beholder, hopefully not literally.
Some nonce words (one-offs coined for a single occasion) are noncier than others. There are many examples of batshit-ometer, but only one of the term coined by @TeckyBecky, who added this memorable addition to a Twitter thread: ‘New scale of ineptitude unlocked: the-chimp-vs-class-A-drugs-whilst-armed-with-various-tools-ometer.’ I’m not entirely sure what that means, but I’d watch it on YouTube.