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In the Detroit Airport, Neologistic Brilliance

by Bob Levey

The Detroit airport is pretty much like any other – planes, gates, seats, bad bagels. But it has just become enshrined as the place that gave us an international neologism winner.

He is John O'Byrne, an economist from Dublin, who is also (as he puts it) a "serial literary competition entrant." His entry in our October make-up-a-word contest was a standout winner.

The challenge, met head on by John and about 3,000 fellow contestants, was:

You buy a new car. All is well for the first few weeks. But then the car begins a campaign to drive you out of your mind. The engine, brakes and all major systems continue to work beautifully. But little things begin to go wrong, one at a time. The mirror won't hold in place. The radio won't shift easily from AM to FM. The breezes whistle through a window that isn't sealed well. These maddening little flaws in a new car are called...

John's winning entry:


That's a delicious knife in the back of America's famous car-manufacturing burg – and a delicious pun on the word "detritus," or "product of disintegration," according to that well-known car expert, Mr. Webster.

Asked for a biographical sketch, John replied that he is 52, married, the father of a 14-year-old son, born and raised in Dublin. He also boasts serious literary bloodlines. "My mother's uncle was a character in 'Ulysses,' " the famed novel written by Irishman James Joyce, John says.

John was introduced to this contest by his brother, Brendan, who lives in Canada and is another "mad word-gamester," John says. John has entered regularly via the World Wide Web for about the last year.

Our victory lunch will have to wait until March, when John is in the United States on business. I await it eagerly. Meanwhile, for all who believe in such tea leaves, John drives a new Toyota. "Nothing has gone funny with it so far except for a flat tire," he says. Just don't call me when the windows start to whistle, okay, John?

It was a good thing that John hopped on the Internet as quickly as he did. "Detroitus" was also submitted by former champ Tom Witte, of Gaithersburg, Jean Stewart, of Northwest Washington and Ann Hanson. Fly to that keyboard a little faster next time, crew.

Almosts and Nearlies for October were:

Carbungles: More than 50 of you. Sally Stokes was first.

Bugatelles: Former champ Everett Rice, of Columbia.

Lemonutia: Anne W. Westbrook, of Alexandria.

Carsinagains: Dennis Millner.

GMlins: Gabe Brown, of Baltimore.

Lemonitions: Former champ Cathy Smith Caviness, of Clifton, Jamie King, of Bowie, and Vince Indelicato Jr., of Warrenton.

Prelemonaries: Former champs Steve Smith and Markell West.

Carcusses: Bob Wilson, of Indian Head, the team of Wendy Werve and Eric Lichtblau, and the team of Eric, Susan and Rick Hatch (Rick is a former champ), of Cabin John.

Newlycar Fallout: Jack Elliott, of McLean.

In-car-serrations: Merle Hershfield.

Autoerraticschism: Len Greenberg, of Sterling, and (with a similar form) Lars Hanson, of Virginia Beach.

Lemon Drops: Molly Michael, of Montgomery, Ala., Terry Leighton, Paula Cohen and Betty H. Gay.

Caveat Emp-Taurus: Hans Johnson, of Northwest Washington.

Peccardilloes: Clarence M. Johnson, of Beltsville, and Greg Dobbins, of Arlington.

Lemontations: Jim Lyman, of Kensington, Paul Rothstein, of Falls Church, Joe Maguire, John Held and Rich Koffman.

Stigmauto: Former champ Jayne Townend.

Clunker Sores: Ryan Strowger, of Burke.

Carnundrums: Glenn Hentz.

Sticker Schlock: Rosalind Hopenfeld.

Wagonies: Marina Lee Bragg.

Auto-da-fooey: Dave Sherman, of Northwest Washington.

Auto-Noiseums: Michael Rahn, of McLean.

And Hoodspa: Edith and Alan Stein, of Silver Spring.

Very strong, gang. Let's see if that strength carries over to the November challenge, which is:

You are a 30-year-old woman. The world always calls you either "Miss" or "Ma'am." But neither word fits. You're too old to be a miss and too young to be a ma'am (or at least you think you are). A better salutation to describe you would be... (Click to see winning entries)

This challenge was suggested by Barbara Goffman, of Bethesda. You get one guess what her age is.

Contest rules: You may enter as often as you like, on one piece of paper or several. Joint entries are welcome. So are entries submitted by fax (202-334-5150) or e-mail ( Entries must bear day and evening phone numbers, including area code(s). All entries become my property. Entries will not be accepted by phone or returned. In case of duplicate winning entries, I'll choose the one I receive first.

Please mail entries to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071. Entries for the November contest must be received by Nov. 30.

© 1999 Bob Levey (
This article is reproduced with the kind permission of the author.

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