We need to create a new word.

March 23, 2010 | By | 15 Replies More

I’m looking for a word, but I don’t think any existing word has the meaning I’m looking to express.  Hence, I believe that we need to create a new word. There isn’t any rule that we can’t create new words, of course. It’s done all the time (Shakespeare did far more than his share). The way to create a neologism is simply to announce it and then hope it goes viral.

The concept I would like to express is not simple—it is a compound somewhat-conflicting concept. Of course, individual words can richly express compound ideas. Take, for instance, the Chinese word for “crisis,” which is often thought to consist of two characters that stand for danger and opportunity (though I’ve recently learned that this delightful story seems to be a myth). Or consider the German word “schadenfreude,” which in pop culture means “’shameful joy’, or taking pleasure in the suffering of others.

But I digress. We need a new word for the following concept:

Short-sighted dangerous action motivated by instinctual kindness.

I saw this situation in action two days ago, while I was driving the green car northbound on a four-lane road (see the image below). The pink truck had come to a stop ahead of me and to my right, in front of a hotel. As I found out (suddenly) the truck had stopped to allow the yellow car make a left turn out of the hotel driveway to go southbound.


The yellow car popped right out in front of me and I had to slam on my brakes (no collision resulted). This is a stunt that you see every so often—a tall stopped vehicle waving the shorter vehicle to blindly drive out into traffic on road having more than two lanes. I have worked as an attorney on a couple traffic cases like this.  In one case of those cases, a well-intentioned driver slowed down on a road with two lanes in each direction (failed to take the right of way) in order to wave a child across the street in front of him.  He did it out of kindness.  The child was killed by a car that didn’t see child until the child stepped out into the second lane of traffic.

Regarding my traffic incident two days ago, the truck should have taken its right-of-way thereby allowing the yellow car to fend for itself. Doing this would have seemed less considerate, of course, but it would certainly have been a better option than the short-sighted dangerous action that the truck driver took.

Therefore, if you are reading this, let me know whether you have any ideas for a new word to capture all of these ideas: Short-sighted dangerous action motivated by instinctual kindness. Or let me know if there is an existing word that has this meaning. Once we lock onto a word with this meaning, I’ll use it every day, I assure you. It would have applications in situations too numerous to fathom, most of them having nothing to do with traffic.

It might become my second-favorite word of all time (the first is “paltering”).


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Category: Language

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (15)

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  1. Larro says:

    While not enforced, I believe it's illegal to direct other driver's here in Michigan.

    I drive for a living and this exact same thing happened to me before. I was driving and the vehicle in front of me waved a vehicle into the oncoming lane. There was no accident as it was only a two-lane highway but you could be held liable for directing traffic.

    Not to mention I do not trust other drivers.

    And how's this: ignoratofeasance

  2. Dave Lloyd says:

    My mother in law does like to say that no good deed goes unpunished. The truth is that when piloting multi-ton deadly weapons people need to be as predictable as possible. That means playing by the rules all the time, even if it seems discourteous to other people.

    How about subtentioned? Like good intentions subverted by the universe.

    BTW, the captcha for me for this comment was "flaw." Sometimes the universe does work.

  3. Dan Klarmann says:

    Seems like a cross of "Good Intentions" and "A Little Knowledge", indications of bad action and overall ignorance.

  4. Erich Vieth says:

    A phrase that somewhat captures two out of the three elements is Hannah Arendt's "banality of evil." Evil-doing without the mens rea, based on the use of moral blinders. But I do want to add that third element too–the visceral feeling that one is doing something GOOD.

    While I'm at it, can anyone think of a word to mean: Panicked xenophobia and willingness to squander vast amounts of resources based on a deep anxiety triggered by a nebulous fear of "terror"?

    I think we should create a word for this concept too.

  5. Erich Vieth says:

    Here's a candidate from my buddy, Dave:


  6. rachel locke says:

    hmmm… so going for the very literal "translation" we might have:



    reckless benkinesia

    (guess i got sort of stuck on the "benkinesia" part… just had a nice ring to it)

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Rachel – good work gathering those word roots! What if we were to add an extra "a" to give the first half of your first submission more of a flow?


      But then again, isn't "myo" the root for "muscle?" If that is true, we could go with a word meaning not enough (under) = "sub" (or "hypo"). We could also add the Latin root for "see" to make "under" word into short-sighted. Hence: hypovisamalabenkinesia . It's starting to sound like a Hawaiian word, but it's necessarily long because it's got a lot of component parts, because the word describes a complex concept.

      OK, your turn . . . How can we make this even better . . . ?

  7. Ben says:

    Please leave me out of this.

  8. Ben says:


  9. Edgar Montrose says:

    I've been looking for a word for a related situation, in which the act of trying to prevent some undesired event actually causes it to happen. Example: one notices that the glass of milk is dangerously close to the edge of the table. So one reaches for the glass of milk, intending to move it farther from the edge, and in the process inadvertently knocks it off the counter and onto the floor.

    Happens to me all the time.

  10. Erich Vieth says:

    Edgar: I know this reply is late, but I wanted to say how much I enjoyed your example of the glass of milk.

  11. Edgar Montrose says:

    Happy to be of service, Erich.

    I did find a word that comes pretty close to the meaning that I described: iatrogenicity.

  12. Erich Vieth says:

    Edgar: "Iatrogenic" looks promising:

    Medical Dictionary provides the following:

    iat·ro·gen·ic definition

    Pronunciation: /(ˌ)ī-ˌa-trə-ˈjen-ik also (ˌ)ē-/

    Function: adj

    : induced inadvertently by a physician or surgeon or by medical treatment or diagnostic procedures <an iatrogenic rash>

    From my American Heritage Dictionary, I looked up the etymology:

    "iatric" comes from the Greek word "iasthai," meaning "to heal."

    "genic" means "born," also meaning produced or generated by.

  13. Edgar Montrose says:

    Dictionary.com offers the following as definition #2:

    social welfare (of a problem) induced by the means of treating a problem but ascribed to the continuing natural development of the problem being treated

  14. Erich Vieth says:

    This webpage claims there IS an English equivalent for the German word “Schadenfreude.” I hadn’t before heard of the word, “epicaricacy,” which purportedly means “(rare) Rejoicing at or derivation of pleasure from the misfortunes of others.” The Usage notes further indicate that “The word is mentioned in some early dictionaries, but there is little or no evidence of actual usage until it was picked up by various “interesting word” websites around the turn of the twenty-first century.” http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/epicaricacy

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