On-line discussion in my Choosing a Variant course turned recently to the verb chillax and an adjective chillaxious derived from it (the latter a find by one of the students). Some of the discussion turned on the status of either or both of these items as words.

When they consider the wordhood question, many people’s first impulse is to ask whether an item is “in the dictionary” — a move that drives professional lexicographers nutso. The pros point out, first, that there are lots of dictionaries, intended for different audiences and purposes; then, that including an item in any particular dictionary is not to confer some special status on the item, but only to record that it is used and how; next, that, for a variety of reasons, every dictionary omits a great many items that are actually in use; and, finally, that the larger the dictionary, the more likely it is to list items that are obsolete, dialectal, technical, or otherwise specialized.

Here’s lexicographer Erin McKean in a Boston Globe column entitled “Chillax”, recommending that “If it works like a word, just use it” and listing some items that fall under the rule:

Funner. Impactful. Blowiest. Territorialism. Multifunctionality. Dialoguey. Dancey. Thrifting. Chillaxing. Anonymized. Interestinger. Wackaloon. Updatelette. Noirish. Huger. Domainless. Delegator. Photocentric. Relationshippy. Bestest. Zoomable.

Chillax is not (yet) in the OED, nor is it in NOAD2 (which Erin edited), but it is listed in Wordnik (which Erin oversees), and it’s in the Merriam-Webster Online dictionary (labeled as slang) and of course in Grant Barrett’s Double-Tongued Dictionary (which describes itself as “a growing lexicon of fringe English, focusing on slang, jargon, and new words”). The DTD entry labels it as U.S. slang (though it’s now found on U.K. and Irish sites) and gives citations (all from the web) from 1994, 1998, and 2004.

Chillax is not only a fairly recent innovation, it’s also a portmanteau (of chill and relax), and it’s primarily used by young people — three considerations that set many people dead against it.  One peever dismisses it as “a made-up word used by annoying Gen-Yers”.

There are plenty of web hits for chillax, but very few for chillaxious; mostly I get the same two over and over: an account of going for a run on “a chillaxious Friday” and an extension of “chillaxious greetings to all you good people”.

Chillaxious appears to be chillax plus the adjective-forming suffix –ious (which combines with the final [s] of chillax to yield [ʃƏs]. But this looks like playful word formation, rather than ordinary word formation, since -ious mostly combines with nominal stems (as in ambitious, with the ambit- of ambition) rather than verbal stems. Perhaps it’s related to playful word formation with –licious (links to postings on the topic here).

One Response to “chillax(ious)”

  1. Postings on playful word formation « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] AZBlog, 2/3/10: chillax(ious) (link) […]

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