29 September 2010

"Recombobulation"

"The Milwaukee airport has a sign “Recombobulation Area.”  What does it mean?  I figured out the answer only from an etymological point of view, though I never suspected that etymology can be of any practical use.  To be discombobulated means to be in a state of confusion.  The word must have been produced in imitation of some other dis-verb or participle.  Since this coinage is a bastard, lacking respectable parentage, the dis-less opposite does not exist.  No linguist will object: after all, one can be disturbed and disconcerted but not turbed or concerted and even dismembered without much prospect of being membered (re-membered) again.  People at Milwaukee took off the prefix and probably assumed that most people would guess that, if discombobulated means “confused, perplexed,” combobulated should mean “disconfused,” that is, “having a full grasp of one’s sense of direction.”  Then (by back formation) they coined the verb combobulate and a verbal noun (combobulation)..."
Photo credit to lark is already taken.

9 comments:

  1. sounds like something from scientology :)

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  2. Brett Michaels uses this term all the time.

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  3. It may not be correct, but in the case of disconcerted, is the root 'concert' as in a group in order? So if you are disconcerted, you are out of order, in a state of disharmony. With dismember, does it refer to (body) parts being members of a group?

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  4. I love that sign and always ask my travel partners if they recombobulated. I've been trying to keep an eye out for other airports with similar signage but haven't found any yet.

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  5. As a linguist, I DO object. Is Palinese pidgin an official state language there?

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  6. What goes on in this area? Does it work? Is it worth traveling to Milwaukee if one is seriously in need of combobulation? My spellchecker doesn't like that word.

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  7. Yesterday I had the pleasure of passing the sign at the MKE airport and at 6:00 a.m. it was the only thing that could make me smile. The fact that it is not really a word is the joke-lighten up.

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  8. I grew up in Milwaukee and heard the word discombobulation a lot. Upon travelling there again as an adult the recombobulation area sign made me smile and I understood instantly what it meant.
    Besides, if sherbet can be mispronounced so frequently as sherbert that it can actually be added to the dictionary due to common use I don't see why it should be surprising that recombobulation could do the same.

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  9. There is a security area where, upon instruction, you have to take off most of your clothes, take out your laptop, remove everything from your pockets and attempt to stand, shoeless and belt-less, with your hands over your head without losing your trousers whilst a machine scans you and your baggage for weapons. This process could reasonably be described as discombobulating. To follow this with a "recombobulation area" seems apposite if not lexically precise. I suspect that someone felt a little levity at this point in your outbound journey might not go amiss. As an Englishman, I was relieved to find that at least the officials in Milwaukee have a sense of humour...

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