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Friday, December 30, 2011

"Trickeration": Is This Hot New Word Really a Word?

Posted By on Fri, Dec 30, 2011 at 11:45 AM


Viewers of last week's 49ers-Seahawks game may have heard something a bit jarring -- not as jarring as what happened to poor Delanie Walker, but jarring nevertheless.

Describing the teams' eclectic playcalling, the game's announcer repeatedly used the term "trickeration." Evidently "trickeration" is getting to be the new "it is what it is" -- today on SFGate, the link to the Niners-Rams preview read: "With nothing to lose, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh expects a heavy dose of trickeration from St. Louis."

Is "trickeration" a word? Well -- it is what it is!

You won't find "trickeration" in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. But you do find it in the Oxford English Dictionary -- and have been able to for decades.

"It's really not a new word -- it's African American vernacular English," explains Grant Barrett, a lexicographer and host of the etymological radio show A Way with Words. Use of this term wouldn't be a head-scratcher for millions of black people -- some of whom are playing, coaching, and broadcasting in the NFL. "But it's surprising to most white folks. White folks tend not to believe there's a whole sector of the language, a lexicon of language, semantics, and grammar that belongs to African American vernacular English. It's a signifier, in a way. Until ['trickeration'] exploded onto the national media scene, it'd probably be a pretty good indicator you were black if you used it."

Per the OED, the earliest usage of the term is in 1940; in 1951 Langston Hughes wrote in Montage of a Dream Deferred, "I believe my old lady's pregnant again! Fate must have some kind of trickeration to populate the cullud nation." In the course of a five-minute Google search, however, Barrett discovered a usage that predates the OED -- a copyrighted song from 1932 titled "Trickeration."

click to enlarge rsz_oed_trickeration.jpg

Absent trickeration, it seems "trickeration" is a word coming into its own after hiding in plain sight for decades. "It's a sleeper," says dictionary writer David Barnhart, like Barrett, a member of the American Dialect Society. "I've been watching words for over 40 years, but I don't remember having heard or seen it before."

Barnhart got right to work, however, quickly documenting printed instances of "trickerate," "trickerating," and even "trickerator." You can read them here: trickerate.docx

The term "trickeration," like "hitterish" or other locker-room-generated sports terms, may not be welcomed by every listener. But it's hardly out of bounds for describing, say, a flea flicker. "It may not be appropriate for every situation,"notes Barrett. "But it's a straightforward, English word with certain connotations of humor."

So it takes a fairly narrow definition of "right" and "wrong" to label "trickeration" as "wrong." That said, announcers are most definitely wrong when they endlessly refer to reverse plays as a "double reverse."

It may be trickeration. But it ain't a double reverse.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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