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May I have a word: An indignity of the layering season

A word for something (annoying) up our sleeves.


Last time, the challenge was to come up with a term for something most of us have started doing around this time of year: tugging the sleeves of inner layers of clothes down to their proper place after donning outer layers caused them to get bunched up somewhere near the elbows.

Just two readers came up with coinages that suggested they might actually enjoy this sleeve malfunction. Jacqueline Lynch, of Marblehead, suggested it be called a sweater snuggle, and Linda Fries, of Lowell, suggested bicep burls, adding, “At least those bunched sleeves make one look temporarily buff!”

More typically, the event made readers cranky. Tom Hayden, of Chelmsford, proposed: “How about Gotterdamm-no-room? Certainly captures how I feel in that very frustrating situation.”


Naomi Angoff Chedd, of Brookline, wrote: “I was a comp lit major in college, so what came to mind were book titles that relate to that discomfort and agitation: A Farewell to Arms, In Cold Blood, The Mummy, and The Winter of Our Discontent.”

And John Foster, of Lynn, told me: “Three words came to mind as soon as I saw the challenge: debunchery, adjustification, and armagettin.”

Michael McCarron, of West Newbury, figured that “if the furled fabric is a sleft, then you would have to work at becoming unslefted.” Michael’s thinking took some unpacking, and I’m just guessing, but sleft would seem to be the past tense of sleeve, if there were such a thing. So to unsleft would be to yank the sleeve back to a preferable present?

Jean Eisenstadt, of Cohasset, called the situation “more annoying than embarrassing” but said it nevertheless counted as wedgied clothing: “The inner sleeve caught on one’s elbow could be called wedgielbow or wedgelbow.”

Milda Contoyannis, of Concord, reported: “When I have clothes encounters of the worst kind, I sing “Sleevings, nothing more than sleevings” as I try to extricate the layers downward.”


Laura McCarron, of West Newbury, came up with the verb a-slee-vi-ate and used it in a sentence like so: “Hang on! I need a minute to asleeviate myself!” And Marjory Wunsch, of Cambridge, thought up resleeving.

Dee Kuehnel, of North Reading, suggested: “The business of unfurling out-of-reach sleeves during the bundling process required to survive New England winters could be called sleevetrieval.Bill Ossmann, of Acton, made the same suggestion and also offered a tip: “The exercise usually is unnecessary. I was taught as a child to grasp the end of a sleeve between my fingers and palm before pulling up the next layer. That keeps the sleeve from bunching up in the first place.”

I think sleevetrieval is a great word! It’s easy to understand and, more important*, fun to say. I hereby award Dee and Bill bragging rights — well done! In fact, I am reminded I ought to sleevetrieve right now to bring the sleeves of the top I’m wearing in line with those of the sweater over it.

* I wrote “more important” and stetted it even though my spellchecker wanted to change it to “more importantly.” It’s the traditional form.

In 1968, back when people cared about copy editing and getting things right, The New York Times advised its editorial staff: “The adverbial phrase ‘more importantly’ modifies nothing in the sentence. What is wanted in constructions of this kind is ‘more important,’ an ellipsis of the phrase ‘what is more important.’”


This point of view can be argued for and against, but it’s the one that the kind of person who tries to work a footnote into a newspaper article could be expected to take.

Now our new challenge comes from Janet Tang, of Boston and Porto, Portugal, who wrote: “I am looking for a word to describe when you have searched your house for an item for weeks or even months and finally break down and buy another one. Unfailingly, the original item is discovered within days of the new purchase. It is as if the original item was too shy until another of the same type item coaxed it out.”

Why, that recently happened to me with my debit card! I searched high and low without success — but I’m not sweet-tempered enough to suppose the darned thing was being shy. I assumed it was being recalcitrant and contrary. Sure enough, a day or two after the new card arrived in the mail, the old one fell out of the pocket of a jacket I’d forgotten having worn recently.

Send your suggestions for Janet’s word to me at by noon on the day after Thanksgiving, and kindly tell me where you live. Responses may be edited. And please keep in mind that meanings in search of words are always welcome.

Barbara Wallraff is a writer and editor in Cambridge.