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Fall-ify Your Vocabtoberfest!

Maybe it's the newly chilly air, or the dwindling daylight, or the thrilling prospect of costumes and candy. Whatever the reason, each autumn brings a harvest of seasonal neologisms, word blends, and commercial coinages as colorful as the falling leaves.

Past seasons have brought us Hauntrepreneurs — consultants who'll help you create the scary "themed attraction" of your nightmares — as well as PSL (shorthand for pumpkin spice latte, the flavored coffee drink popularized by Starbucks) and spoopy (an intentional misspelling of "spooky," with shadings of "poopy," that turned into an Internet meme). Two years ago, we had the once-in-a-lifetime Thanksgivukkah.

This year, the new seasonal word that caught my attention was fall-ify, an invented verb meaning "to add autumnal touches to something."

Food & Wine magazine suggests "5 ways to fall-ify your morning oatmeal!" Bon Appetit counters with "5 ways to fall-ify your coffee." You can also fall-ify your house, your favorite summer outfit, and your beauty routine. The coinage seems to have gathered momentum this year, but the "beauty routine" post is from 2011. I also found fall-ify in a September 2013 Wall Street Journal article ("a surprisingly dramatic, low effort way to fall-ify a summery space") and — sans hyphen — in an October 2012 Urban Dictionary entry ("the act of decorating your house, or any other area, in a fall theme").

These citations are all American, because fall — from an Old English word, and originally expressed as "fall of the leaf" — is far more widely used in the U.S. than in the U.K., where autumn (a borrowing from French automne) predominates. (Canadians use both terms about equally.) Both fall and autumn began being used at around the same time, in the 16th century, writes Forrest Wickman in Slate; Sir Walter Raleigh, an early explorer of North America, was among the first to use fall. I did find some citations for autumnify, but they're greatly outnumbered by fall-ify usages.

And that -ify suffix? Its origin is the Latin -ificare, "make"; it's applied equally to Romance roots and Germanic ones. (It's also ridiculously popular as a brand-naming device, as this Pinterest board proves.) The -ify suffix also has "a special function," according to R.M.W. Dixon, author of Making New Words: "It may be used for jocular effect within a fairly intimate register." Dixon cites Gilbert and Sullivan's "matrimonially matrimonified," as well as the more contemporary cook-ify and dead-ify.

By far the most popular seasonal coinages, though, are the "portmonthteaus," as word collector James Callan (scarequotes) calls them. Callan compiled a list of 60 portmonthteaus on Wordnik, and fully a third of them are variations on "October," from Augtober (October-like weather in August, or vice versa) to Spocktober (the month when people "Spock-ify" themselves with Vulcan ears). In the San Francisco Bay Area we have Sharktober (the season of peak shark migration and human-shark encounters); Australia celebrates Frocktober to raise money for ovarian cancer research (the Frocktober Challenge: wear a dress every day in October). Other specialized -tobers include InkTober, which invites artists to create one ink drawing a day for a month; Poptober, a Boy Scouts of America popcorn sale; Socktober, which donates socks to homeless people; Pinktober, a breast-cancer fundraising campaign (and a registered trademark of the Hard Rock entertainment company); Monstober, a Disney Channel games promotion; Overstockober, a month of discounts on the Overstock.com website; and Sicktober, often accompanied by a hashtag symbol and a sad-face emoji. There are many and various Rocktobers, from a Lindy Hop camp in Columbus, Ohio, to a mountain-bike event for girls in Calabasas, California.

If you revel in portman-tobers, you may have reveled at one of the multitudinous X-toberfests, all of which borrow the construction from Oktoberfest, the beer festival and traveling fair that originated as the 1810 wedding celebration in Bavaria of Crown Prince Ludwig (later King Ludwig I) to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen. Oktoberfest remained an exclusively German institution for more than century; the oldest and largest continuous North American Oktoberfest, first held in 1969, takes place each fall in Kitchener and Waterloo, twin cities in Ontario, Canada, whose early settlers were German-speakers. (Until World War I, Kitchener was called Berlin.) The KW Oktoberfest is so big — it draws 750,000 to 1 million visitors each year — that it encompasses several portmanteaued sub-fests, including Rocktoberfest (rock concerts), Fusstoberfest (fussball contests), and Oktoberlicious (prix fixe menus at local restaurants).

But you don't have to be German — or German-American or German-Canadian — to love X-toberfests. Seasonally fest-ified names now comprise a diverse bunch of celebrations. A very selective list includes an Aq-toberfest (a "night swim pool party" at the M Resort in Henderson, Nevada), several Bachtoberfests (including one that's online), a Barktoberfest, a Biketoberfest, an oddly punctuated Book'toberfest, a Choctoberfest, a Craftoberfest, a Folktoberfest (a gathering in Michigan of people who collect the figurines known as Wee Forest Folk), a Hoptoberfest (beer and music), several Oaktoberfests (including the one in my hometown, Oakland, California), a Shocktoberfest ("Pennsylvania's premier haunted scream park"), and a few Trucktoberfests (there's one in Seattle that calls itself a "mobile food rodeo"). I get a special kick out of Edinburgh's Och!toberfest, a "wee beer festival celebrating all that is good and great from Scottish breweries." Och is, of course, a quintessentially Scottish guttural interjection, used to express surprise or anger, or simply for emphasis.

Knowingly or not, the creators of these X-toberfests observed a linguistic rule: the X prefix ends either, like Oc-, in a /k/ sound or in another voiceless stop consonant: t or p. Affixes that rhyme, more or less, with Oc- are especially prized. (See Walktoberfest, Bloktoberfest, Flocktoberfest, et al.) Occasionally you'll see a rule-violator, like Jazztoberfest, Lawtoberfest, or Maytoberfest (a spring festival), but they don't roll off the tongue as felicitously. (I found the last three examples in a 2008 blog post by Mr. Verb, who in turn cited a 2005 article in the Naples [Florida] News.) "Vocabtoberfest" in the title of this column is an example of a phonetically awkward X-toberfest: the /b/ and /t/ sounds bump together in uneasy disharmony.

However you choose to fall-ify your X-tober, don't delay — before you know it, we'll be headed into a mustachioed Movember. Or a doctor-approved Whovember. Or an abstemious SOvember. Or even, Santa Claus willing, Decembeard.


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Nancy Friedman is the chief wordworker at verbal-branding consultancy Wordworking, and the author of a fine blog on naming, branding and more called Fritinancy. Nancy has named a venture-capital firm, a laser hair-removal device, a mobile-money service, and many other companies and products. A former journalist, she still writes or ghostwrites articles, speeches, white papers, and books. Click here to read more articles by Nancy Friedman.

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Comments from our users:

Monday October 19th 2015, 8:40 AM
Comment by: Orin Hargraves (CO)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
Perhaps we shun autumnify
For fear it will calumnify
the language.

Thanks for great post, Nancy!
Tuesday October 20th 2015, 5:07 PM
Comment by: Craig J.
Thanks for the cultural catch-up, including the links. I took advantage of several of them and was particularly intrigued by Trucktoberfest, which takes place nearby. I suppose advertising people do a better job than most of tracking trends, and communicating about them.
Monday October 26th 2015, 12:03 AM
Comment by: Mike P.
I love the term "portmonthteaus"!

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