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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