Monday, July 16, 2007


Hunger, Thirst, Nausea and the others

I want to drink <=> I am thirsty <=> thirst
I want to eat <=> I am hungry <=> hunger
I want to vomit <=> I am nauseous <=> nausea
I want to urinate <=> I am ________ <=> ______
I want to defecate <=> I am ________ <=> ______

I think we're missing a couple of words or word-pairs. And I really don't see how they should be generated. [Please don't ask how or why I noticed, I don't really know].

It is not surprising that they are missing because they are about "dirty" things and are taboo (but vomit is pretty gross so why isn't nausea missing?); most often we don't even dare use the 'proper' terms; we either use a euphemism or a coarser term, which I've now learned is a "dysphemism: making something sound worse". In Euphemism and dysphemism (part of a course in "Language and Power"), Dr. Susanna Cumming of UCSB notes:
Conventional X-phemisms: words whose sole purpose is to make reference to a taboo topic in a polite or impolite way: "shit" vs. "defecate", "prick" vs. "penis" etc. This category has more to do with politeness and social norms than the speaker's actual feelings. Conventional dysphemisms may have a positive social value in expressing casualness, informality, solidarity etc.

One rarely hears "I want to urinate", but rather "I need to wash my hands," or "I need to use the bathroom," or (my favorite) "I need to powder my nose." I've even heard a Frenchman say it was "time to change the water in the fishbowl." "I need to use the toilet" (or "the lavatory") is a little more explicit, but hardly more so than "use the bathroom", and necessarily so in places where the toilet is often not in the bathroom (i.e., European homes). In some company, one might go so far as to say "I need to pee," ("leak", "whiz") but that is already demonstrating a capacity for vulgarity and a degree of intimacy with one's company; as Cumming noted above, "conventional dysphemisms may have a positive social value in expressing casualness, informality, solidarity etc."

I can't remember ever hearing anyone declare that they wanted (or needed) to defecate. "Go number two" or "poop" (or "poo poo", or "ca-ca" as in French) for the young, and even the not-so-young. "Take a dump" or possibly "a crap" serve for the "casualness, informality, solidarity etc." case. Fortunately, most often it is possible to defecate in the same place or near to where one urinates, so the euphemisms in the previous paragraph should enable the one in need to ask his way to the appropriate please without specifying "why."

Generating new or missing words can be a little tricky, but often one can use the basic combination of prefixes, roots, and suffixes approach. Purists will try to avoid mixing pieces from Greek, Latin, and other languages to create Frankenwords, but even that can sometimes be admitted. However, as we see in the list at the start of this post, we really have very little to go on: thirst and drink, hunger and eat, nausea and vomit are all pairs that have no apparently common roots. They don't even have prefixes of suffixes. An alternate approach might be to "enroll" some meaningless words (such as several from Carroll's "Jabberwocky") and simply decree that they take on these new meanings; should this succeed, who knows what literary reinterpretation it could provoke centuries hence! I won't take that responsibility: "slithy" should not mean "wants to urinate", nor anything else.

Now, some good news (from The Free Online Dictionary) :
mic·tu·rate : To urinate. [From Latin micturre, to want to urinate, desiderative of meiere, to urinate; see meigh- in Indo-European roots.]

Why is this "good news"? Because it says there was already a Latin word for "to want to urinate"! All I need to do is to modernize it a little: "I am micturitious". Voilà! Unfortunately, whereas "micturition" should mean "the desire to urinate", it has come to mean "is urinating," so I still don't have an equivalent to hunger, thirst, and nausea unless I shorten it to "micturity". That should be possible, because it doesn't seem to be in use yet; the only Google (and Yahoo!) url was for a page including the text "Note: Despite the above micturity-withdrawal I probably am a goth. I dress like it, act like it, listen to the music....etc. " and it seems to be pretty meaningless in its context. And Wow! What a day! Google only found one instance of "micturity" and Yahoo! too, same for "micturitious" (not the same url as for "micturity", BTW). I recently read that Google, Yahoo! and Ask almost never have the same links in the same order; I've just found two searches where they return identical (albeit very short) result lists.

However I have not been so lucky as to find "Latin xxxx, to want to defecate." I'll nominate "fecetious", perhaps (with "fecety"?); that's one more thing to think about when I'm weeding the lawn. Readers suggestions are welcome in "comments" (moderated, but that doesn't mean "turned off").

"Spit", "cough" and "sneeze" probably aren't worth the effort, but if inspiration strikes...

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How about "mictury" instead of "micturity"? It is shorter, and lends itself to other wordplay ("mictury loves company" instead of "buying Depends is a sign of maturity and micturity").
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