One of my favorite word-of-the-year contests is also one of the less widely publicized: the one conducted by Paul Anthony Jones, proprietor of the Haggard Hawks blog and social-media accounts. The winner of this special honor must be “a suitably obscure term, pulled from one of the dustier corners of the dictionary, that somehow sums up the last twelve months.” In 2020 that word was respair—“renewed hope after a period of despair”—which I wrote about in December of that year. The 2021 winner, chosen by popular vote, is more downbeat: overmused, an adjective that means “worn out from thinking too much.”
Image from “The Trap of Overthinking,” Executive Support magazine.
Here’s Jones’s explanation:
It’s fair to say we probably all had a lot on our minds in 2021, which makes this superb seventeenth-century coinage the perfect choice for Word of the Year. To overmuse is to overthink, or to contemplate too much—so if you’re feeling overmused, then you’re utterly exhausted from endlessly thinking, worrying, and mulling things over. And after yet another difficult twelve months, that’s probably a feeling many of us were familiar with in 2021.
I’ve been musing a bit myself about overmuse, and in particular about muse, the verb meaning “to ponder” or “to contemplate.” I’d always assumed it was related to the Greek Muses—the goddesses of art, poetry, history, comedy, tragedy, dancing, astronomy, and, of course, music. There may be a connection back in Proto-Indo-European, but the noun and verb arrived separately in English, apparently from different sources, and the OED tells us that attempts to connect the verb “with classical Latin mūsa muse n.1 are unconvincing.” The verb to muse was borrowed in the 14th century from French muser, which may be related to some words meaning “face,” including English “muzzle.” Old French muser also meant “to play the bagpipe,” and there’s a “face” connection here, too, relating to the bagpiper’s puffed-up cheeks. A musette is a small bagpipe.
The runners-up on the Haggard Hawks ballot are equally intriguing and useful: thulge, an Old English word meaning “to tolerate something unpleasant”; pseudiator, a quack or charlatan; apanthropy, “a dislike of being around other people”; and channel fever, an old nautical term for “an intense homesickness sparked or worsened at the end of a long journey.”
You can follow Haggard Hawks on Instagram and on Twitter, where you’ll find gems like this:
A SWERL is a calm stream.— Haggard Hawks (@HaggardHawks) January 17, 2022
A STRICK is a fast stream.
A TRINTLE is a shallow stream.
A PURL is a swirling stream.
A SIKE is a marshland stream.
A FRESHET is a freshwater stream.
A BURNGRAIN is a stream that meets a river.
A STREAMLING is a tiny stream. pic.twitter.com/GZQQ9rW15K
Doomscrolling leads to overmusing.
Posted by: Tom Adams | January 26, 2022 at 10:13 AM