Lewis Carroll knew one of the most fun things about being a writer. Occasionally, you get to just make up words.
Well, with Carroll it tended to be more than just occasional, he made a downright habit of it. Probably his most famous example was the Jabberwocky poem:
“‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.”
On and on like that for several verses, and in Through the Looking Glass Carroll includes an entire scene where Humpty Dumpty painstakingly walks Alice through the meanings of the words she doesn’t comprehend, even though his explanations sometimes aren’t precisely helpful.
“It’s called “wabe” you know, because it goes a long way before it, and a long way behind it —’.”
That clears everything up, doesn’t it? But you know, it’s still quite possible to get the gist of Jabberwocky without knowing what everything means. It was fun for me to read as a kid, and as an adult it’s still fun, not to mention a reminder to me that words can be rather arbitrary things. Carroll may have gone way out there, but language is an ever evolving project, and today’s nonsense may be tomorrow’s triple word score in Scrabble. Every year the Oxford English Dictionary inducts new words into its lexicon, such as “podcast”, “selfie”, and “frenemy”. English in particular seems to love such additions and provide room for them, making it at once perhaps the messiest language in the world and the most flexible.
Anyhow, I’m jabbering (wockily?) about all this because this week’s comic debuts a little concoction of my own. There I was, struggling to come up with something suitably bizarre to use as the title of the leader (or at least one of the leaders) of the Huachucas. “Bruja” would have worked, I suppose, but… it was missing something, especially considering some of the background elements I had in mind.
And then it hit me in a flash. Here’s a lady who is both “witch” and “boss”, right? Even though the Huachucas are not meant to be entirely Mexican in origin or current roster, if the Spanish words for witch and boss combined in unholy union, you’d get a new word that rolled right off the tongue: Brujefe. Suck it, English, you’re not the only language that can do portmanteaus!
Now Dawn expressed concern about me doing something like this outside the scope of my native tongue, but, eh, if it doesn’t actually make sense in Spanish I invoke rule of awesome, particularly since, as previously discussed, the Huachucas are not strictly Mexican. Interestingly enough I did poke at “jefe” just to see if the feminine version would be said “la jefe” or “la jefa”, and according to at least one source it can vary depending where you are and who you’re addressing, and in fact it’s suggested that nowadays you should default to masculine form with feminine prefix if you want to use the safer choice.
I probably would have gone with Brujefe rather than Brujefa anyhow since jefe is the more instantly recognized word, but it was nice to have some backup as I gyre and gimble. The best nonsense words are the ones that not only fill a necessary niche, but sound like they should’ve been there all along.