Thursday, October 14, 2010


I nearly choked on my Chilean Merlot last night (drunk to celebrate the rescue of the trapped Chilean miners rather than out of any dependence on the tranquilising effects of alcohol, honest) when Apprentice contestant Melissa used the expression "to find comfortability" while referring to her team's hopeless product the Book-Eze, designed to make reading on the beach less onerous (watch from about 30-31 minutes into this episode if you want to hear it for yourself).Am I getting prescriptive in my old age?

"Comfortability"? Is it a real word? When I type it wrongly, my Blogger spellcheck corrects it, so Blogger thinks it's real. I've checked it on WebCorp and it seems to appear on several US business websites and it gets used  by American footballer, Shawne Merriman here. But what does it mean? And why not just "comfort"?

This guy claims he coined it to refer to an ability to be "fully present/comfortable in an uncomfortable situation". I can't find it in the OED or Merriam-Webster, but it appears as long ago as 1984 as part of a medical test, "A Comfortability Level Scale for Performance of Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation". Weird...

So, is this like conversate: a word that might have originally just been a mistake, a slip of the tongue, and which gets picked up and spread into wider usage because of its apparently impressive sound? Is it better than "comfort", and, more importantly, will I be able to read my Girl With The Dragon Tattoo on Bognor beach in comfortability?


Anonymous said...

Thanks for linking to my site regarding my use of the word comfortability. I think if language is to be a living language then it must continue to evolve and explore new ways of expressing ideas. The use of this word on the Apprentice and in the medical journal are very different from the way I used the word when trying to approach the difficult topic of racism. When I first used the word during the workshop on racism, I was immediately chided that it was not a word. I had to defend why I used it in the manner that I did and therefore that is how I came to claim coining the word. I did not know about the medical journal's use but the context in which I used the word and the context in which they use the word seems to be different. It also seems to be even vastly different than the way the Apprentice person used the word. Time alone will tell if the word and which definition will be accepted into common use.

Julia Homan said...

I noticed that term too but did not research it! Fascinating.
On a non-linguistic note- You may find Bognor beach has too many pebbles to arrange your book stand. I recommend you head for the private West Wittering sandy beach and posh Chichester.