Verb Day 2012

Saturday I mean Sunday was March 4th, or as we know it, Verb Day! On one of the only dates that’s also an imperative, usually families and communities get together to make up new verbs. The official U.S. national verb this year was “scraddling,” defined by a ceremonial Act of Congress as:

scraddle (v): to rub a part of the body against an object in such a way as to scratch an itch

You probably saw the Chancellor of the National Verb Council make her speech calling for parents to begin using the word with their children “so that a new generation will grow up never knowing a world without the joy of scraddling,” and of course President Obama released a statement urging “Americans of every race, color, and creed to come together, scraddle against the obstacles before us, and keep America strong.”

I’m happy with scraddling — I’ll take whatever new verbs I can get, in this economy — but I’d also like to draw your attention to a verb I myself coined in 2004, when Wondermark was still pretty new:

Our research department took an informal survey of 10,032 Americans and Western Europeans, asking them a variety of questions including their emotional reaction to this news item. The survey also included “dummy” questions designed to disguise the true nature of the survey, so as to weed out “prampters”, or respondents who concoct bogus answers for sport (“prampting”).

The dummy questions included such irrelevant gems as “What criteria do you use when deciding which brand of mung beans to purchase?” and “Did ‘moral values’ play a role in deciding who you would vote for in the Presidential election?”

You may recall that ‘moral values’ was the media-cycled phrase of the hour in the Bush/Kerry election, the way ‘hope and change’ was in 2008 and ‘create jobs’ is today. So this bit was surely very funny at the time. But the point is: prampting, or to prampt.

A portmanteau of prompt and prank (and with a meaning along the lines of to prank when prompted), I’ve always liked ‘prampting’ and think it should come into wider use. I don’t know how common the actual practice of prampting is in the world, but when I consider it, I’m reminded of something that happened to me back in high school.

My two best friends and I had a nonsense sort of club or secret society, and although it didn’t do anything or serve any purpose at all besides having an elaborate, 100-move secret handshake, I loved concocting the trappings of a legitimate entity — things like business cards, letterhead, company memos and so on. We had nothing to say in the memos, but we had the letterhead if ever we needed it.

In eleventh grade we decided to pass out applications to some of our other friends, to officially initiate them into the club. It was a very elaborate application, four or five pages long as I recall, and we insisted that people fill it out fully (and then return it to one of us charter members, who would have to initial each page in colored ink to prevent forgery). It was all quite serious, and probably a bit rude because we only passed out applications to the people we liked, but whatever, it was high school.

Anyway, as we started to get applications back, I began to realize that some of the people filled out the application as a joke, putting funny answers instead of real ones. I remember, in particular, an answer given by one person whom we were keen on making an official member of the club:

Q: What do you typically eat for lunch?
A: Nothing. I am sustained by sex alone.

Not only was this answer vaguely scandalous to us dorks, we also had to deal with the issue of the application not being taken seriously. We’d gone to all this trouble to write up and pass out elaborate applications for our fake club that didn’t do anything and was all a joke, and these people didn’t stay deadpan with us. They cracked and called it out as a joke.

This sparked long, fevered internal discussions about whether we should accept this applicant into the club after this flagrant disrespect for our wholly invented and irrelevant process. Eventually, the reasoned response seemed to be to ask the applicant to redo her application, and in retrospect, this made us look even more like the biggest dorks possible. That is the power of prampting.

Have you any tales of prampting? Or, did your family make up any verbs of your own this weekend? Tell us in the comments!

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