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Pronounced /kɛlɛmɛnˈəʊpɪ/Help with pronunciation

Do not seek this word, gentle reader, in your dictionary of choice. It will not be there. It is an invented word that has no real existence outside the pages of the book in which it was first presented to the world.

It was coined by the late John Ciardi, the American poet and teacher, in A Browser’s Dictionary in 1980, describing it as “the one essential trope neglected by classical rhetoricians” and suggesting it meant a sequential straight line through the middle of everything, leading nowhere. He said it was “from my own psychic warp, to see if anyone would notice, and because I have always dreamed of fathering a word”. (Haven’t we all?)

The genesis of his creation was the sequence klmnop from the centre of the alphabet, with ten letters before and ten after it, which Mr Ciardi described as “a strictly sequential irrelevance”. The word, he suggested, might be applied with special appropriateness to the career of one US politician in particular: “Teddy Kennedy's career has been the classical kelemenopy of the American twentieth century.”

Though generated in fun, he had hopes, I suspect, that the word might become widely enough used to be an intangible memorial. Alas, if that was indeed his desire, posterity has failed him, since I can find only one book that uses it in anything like seriousness, Jason Earls’ curious work of 2007, Red Zen: A Novel of Extreme and Bizarre Adventure In Which a Mystical Book on Buddhism Changes the Hero's Life. Even the writers of books about weird words seem largely to have passed it by.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.

Page created 17 May 2003; Last updated 21 Mar 2009