Is “Religulous” A Word?

By Maeve Maddox

Since it’s the title of a movie, “religulous” must be said to be a word, but it’s not a very good one.

I object to it as I do to any movie title that spreads and reinforces incorrect forms of English spelling or idiom.

Critics to the contrary, English spelling has rules and the portmanteau word “religulous”, a combination of religion+ridiculous, or religion+incredulous, breaks one of them.

The letter g represents two different sounds, “hard g” and “soft g.”
The “hard” sound of the letter g is /g/ as in gun.
The “soft” sound of the letter g is /j/ as in gin.

Here’s the rule:
G has the “soft sound” when followed by the vowels e, i, or y.
Examples: genuine, ginger, gypsy, and gyves (the little leather ties used on the legs of hunting birds)

Before you ask: the g in girl is not followed by the vowel i. It is followed by the vowel/consonant combination ir and retains the “hard” sound: /gurl/

In spoken advertising, the movie is called /re-lij-u-lus/, but according to the rule, it would be /re-lig-u-lus/.

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12 Responses to “Is “Religulous” A Word?”

  • Ray Fowler

    Interesting. I have not actually heard the word pronounced by anyone, but I’ve been reading it as “re-lig-u-lus.”

  • Trisha

    I don’t disagree with your objection, but I have to ask this: if people didn’t occasionally make up new words, which by their continued use become part of the general lexicon of a language and accepted by the populace, how would languages themselves ever develop and evolve?

    Wouldn’t we then all still be stuck sounding like actors performing the Canterbury Tales? Our speech riddled with archaic words and phrases that many times lacked clarity and brevity?

    That being said, I wonder how many of this particular film’s audience members will understand how the filmmakers came up with the title (I myself prefer religious+ridiculous – if it’s explained in the film itself forgive me – I haven’t had time to see it yet but plan to rent the DVD when it’s available)……therefore I do believe that if you’re going to make up words, they should at least be clear and provide some improvement over what they are intended to replace.

  • Edward F. Gumnick

    I’ve heard most people (including TV commentators) pronounced this title “Re-li-juh-lus” than “Re-lig-yu-lus,” so it never dawned on me to hear it as a portmanteau of “religious” and “ridiculous.” I assumed it was meant as a portmanteau of “religious” and “credulous” (not “incredulous”).

    I have to agree with you that it’s a bad made-up word. Unless most people get a joke the first time they hear or read it, the joke isn’t working.

  • Maeve

    Edward,
    Your assumption of credulous is more logical than mine.
    Thanks.

  • Maeve

    Trisha,
    I’m not objecting to new coinages. They enrich the language.

    My criticism is of “religulous.” It’s an ugly word that doesn’t follow spelling rules. and, as Edward points out, it doesn’t work.

  • Trisha

    Point well taken. It’s not only ugly, but Edward’s comment reinforces an important point – the meaning isn’t clear. Religious + credulous is vastly different than religious + ridiculous, so unless the intent is clear, it will wind up being misused.

    It never occurred to me to combine religious with credulous…..I suppose it depends on your personal opinion on religion(s).

  • Rick Horowitz

    I agree that the word is ugly. I’ve not liked it since the minute I heard it. The concept behind the movie of that title is interesting to me, but the word is so off-putting that I’ve not been able to get myself too excited about seeing the movie. Eventually, I will, but I still hate the word. Even Ridiculion (the worship of the ridiculous) might have been better. Or, to tie it more closely to religion, and point out the most common misspelling of “ridiculous” that I usually see, it could have been “Rediculion.” 😉

  • Maeve

    If anyone is interested, I wrote a review of this film in my guise of movie critic at BellaOnline.

  • PreciseEdit

    I agree: Should be a “hard g.” Ex: Caligula was Religulous.

  • anon

    “The “soft” sound of the letter g is /j/ as in gin.
    Here’s the rule:
    G has the “soft sound” when followed by the vowels e, i, or y.”

    What about gynecologist?

  • anon

    I thought it should be spelled Religiulous if they wanted the soft g sound. Margarine is another word that breaks the rule and drives me crazy. G is not always soft when followed by e, i or y but it is always hard when followed by a, o or u (except margarine!).

  • venqax

    AMEN, Maeve!! We have an online college now, spelled REGUS. that insists on pronouncing itself REE-JUS. They give the spelling AND illiterate pronunciation in their radio commercials with that special pride only oafs can muster. And a COLLEGE. Maybe this is ironic…have to think that thru.

    While we’re at it, could special aim be taken at all those who inkist in kaying KELTIK, violating the hard/soft C rule which is even stronger than the G one?

    “It’s not a word and you don’t even pronounce it right”, should cause a silencing blush to the speaker, but usually those who make this kind of mistake aren’t capable of understanding the correction. EYE-regardless….

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