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Reader Graham Broadley is apparently scratching his head over a word that’s recently been admitted to the pages of the venerable OED:

I was watching the French Open tennis tournament the other day and heard the commentator say the word ‘bounce-back-ability’ had made it into the OED this year. Can you confirm this is true? And if it is how an earth does such a word gain acceptability into a dictionary? It’s not as if it’s widely in use.

I’d never heard the word before, but I’m not a sports fan. The word is out there– a Google search turned up 26,900 hits–but I’m as speechless as Graham to know that bouncebackability is in the OED.

Here’s the entry:

bouncebackability, n. chiefly sport: The capacity to recover quickly or fully from a setback, bad situation, etc.

[1961 Times Recorder (Zanesville, Ohio) 18 Apr. 2B/1 The Tribe demonstrated its bounce-back ability in a three-game series with Washington, taking the set 2-1.] 1972 Manitowoc (Wisconsin) Herald-Times 25 May M3/2 The ‘bounce-back-ability’ is a valuable asset to the manager. 1991 Economist 5 Oct. 20/2 New York will again demonstrate its bouncebackability. 2005 Daily Record (Glasgow) (Nexis) 13 Apr. 3 We then showed some true bouncebackability when we equalised with a fine header from Christie.

Curiously enough, although the word has been in use in the U.S. since 1961, Merriam-Webster has so far not added it to that extremely tolerant American dictionary. (I subscribe to the online unabridged edition and it’s not in there.)

This from the MacMillan English Dictionary:

In 2004, a phrasal verb has made its mark on the language again, though not by being intrinsically ‘new’, but by spawning a ‘new’ noun. The established intransitive phrasal verb bounce back, meaning ‘to become successful again after something bad has happened’ has formed the basis of a new derivative bouncebackability, an uncountable noun which apparently fills a gap in the language for describing a person’s ability to succeed again after a period of being unsuccessful.

I guess bouncebackability is what Bill Clinton, “the Comeback Kid,” had in 1992 but there wasn’t a word for it yet. And of course, Joe Montana had it way before that.

I wonder why nobody thought to coin comebackability.

I guess one answer to Graham’s question could be that even an odd word can gain entry to a dictionary when it’s perceived by the lexicographer in charge as describing a concept for which no other suitable word exists.

Can anyone suggest an already existing word that describes the concept of bouncebackability?

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23 thoughts on “Bouncebackability”

  1. Even before reading the body of the post, I thought of ‘resilience’. I’m far from a sports fan, though, and perhaps I’m missing out on a finer detail of the definition.

  2. Didn’t the UK Sky TV show Soccer am campaign for it to go in? Pretty sure they had something to do with it. Could be wrong!

  3. At first I thought this was going to be about the term ‘bounce’ that Google Analytic’s uses for website visits.

    But then it got into one of my favorite areas, new words.

    Merriam-Webster doesn’t seem to stay on top of things very well.

    Have you read Bill Bryson’s “English, The Mother Tongue and how it got that way?” Great read and it gives us all leave to create new words.

    Highly impactful!

  4. I think it was coined by either Iain Dowie or Ian Holloway, both British football managers.

    The clip of them saying it was shown often because it was/is such a stupid word. Then Soccer AM, as mentioned above, got hold of it and campaigned for it to go in the OED.

    And here we are!

  5. I agree with cmdweb (resilience) and with bad tim. I think this is “one” (sort of) long word that would take up too much room in the dictionary, except to say, “See: Resilience.” Especially if it’s spelled as one long word. Still, it kind of has a certain je-ne-sais-quoi about it (maybe the alliterative “B” sound)…

  6. What’s wrong with “resiliency”? I’m all for new necessary words, but bouncebackability just sounds idocratic (from the movie “Idiocracy”) to me.

  7. More dumbing down: It sounds to me like a word made up by someone who didn’t have enough command of the language to remember the word “resilience.”

  8. Leave it up to the sports world to coin words. Basically, they get commentators whose qualifications for broadcasting have nothing to do with their grasp of the English language as we (should) know it. I’ve seen so many bad sportscasters over the years that I gave up on watching sports altogether. One of the worst was OJ Simpson. Just another reason to have contempt for the guy. Howard Cossell was the last erudite announcer, and he closed the door behind him. In essence, when it comes to sports, anyoldword will suffice as long as it promises to be colorfuistic.

  9. Yeah, “resilience” immediately popped into my mind, too. Sportscasters might think it sounds too formal and prefer something a little more fun. I have nothing against that, but I’m not sure that means “bouncebackability” belongs in the dictionary. It’s not hard to figure out what it’s supposed to mean, since it’s made up of existing words.

    It reminds me of the time I made up “non-interferists” and put it into a paper freshman year at Uni. The TA really hated me for that one – “NOT A REAL WORD!!!”…

  10. I agree with Dee, you just don’t get the same effect with resilience.
    I also agree with Vic, that’s why I often use the mute button.

  11. Resilience for me, too. Did anyone notice the use of the resultative perfect in the quote from McMillan’s?

    In 2004, a phrasal verb has made its mark on the language again, …


  12. Resilience was the word that popped into my mind right away. Then I saw alece’s “resiliency,” and thought that was better. Maybe bouncebackability has a shade of meaning that resiliency doesn’t have, but I agree with bad tim in congratulating Merriam-Webster. I agree with Sue, too. Bouncebackability is not only awkward-sounding, but also definitely “idiocratic.”

  13. Bouncebackability may not have been coined by Iain Dowie, but when he he was manager of South London professional football club Crystal Palace FC, and he used the word to describe Palace’s ability to go a goal down and come back into the match, it become a cult word used over here in England a lot. At the time, being a Palace fan, it was the greatest word in the world!

  14. I think ‘bouncebackability’ says a bit more than resilience; resilience brought to mind the idea that something had been able to withstand something else or survive whereas ‘bouncebackability’ in my mind went further and seemed to suggest that whereas the subject may not have withstood the circumstances sucessfully they were able to come back after defeat.

    Does anyone agree or have I just made a distinction without a difference?!

    That’s the beauty of language I guess…

    The more I think about it the more I’m not sure there is a real difference but it’s given me food for thought 🙂

  15. I agree💯 with 1stAD. You hit it right. Bouncebackability communicates like resilience however the striking difference is the fact that, one with a-bounce-back-ability, necessarily did not have to have done well with bearing the of pressure/storm/challenge they faced but certainly has the grace to get-back-up after a down turn. Which is what we could also describe as the ability to achieve a comeback after a setback.
    Bouncebackability is huge, and I don’t think it should be trivialized. Many people end in the setback experience but a Bouncebackability personality succeeds against all odds >>> failing forward more like.
    I think this word – Bouncebackability, deserves an inclusion in all dictionaries[resilience was coined by someone and it found it’s way into the dictionary because it was interpreted as what it was interpreted to mean. So also BOUNCEBACKABILITY!

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