What in the Word? A PH Take on the Post’s ‘Mensa Invitational’

Colleen Steele avatar

by Colleen Steele |

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A friend recently emailed me an old list of winners of “The Washington Post Mensa Invitational” that has been circulating the web. According to the rules, participants must take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and then supply a new definition.

According to my online research, there is some debate about where this list originates. Some articles even referred to it as an urban legend. The submitted words are clever and funny, whether compiled by The Washington Post or the Word Play Masters Invitational website, which isn’t affiliated with the newspaper, or elsewhere.

My favorites are “inoculatte: To take coffee intravenously when you are running late” and “caterpallor: The color you turn after finding half a worm in the fruit you’re eating.”

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Challenge accepted

My son Cullen was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension (PH) in 2008 and received a heart and double-lung transplant in 2014.

Sarcasm and humor are significant factors in our emotional survival over the past 14 years. For this reason, I accepted my friend’s challenge and created my own words with a focus on medical terminology.

Pulmonary, which relates to the lungs, is the first word I altered:

Pulmoanary: A moaning sound produced by lungs fatigued by pulmonary hypertension.

Following pulmonary, of course, hypertension refers to abnormally high blood pressure. I transformed this word into something that people living with PH often do daily:

Hopertension: Stretching hope as far as it can go.

My son’s PH had no known underlying cause, and the medical term for this is idiopathic. I took greater creative liberty with this word and changed it to:

Idiompathic: A person who overuses idioms to get their point across.

An example of an idiom Cullen frequently hears doctors use is “Let’s give it the old college try.”

Before being diagnosed with PH, Cullen had another condition called long QT syndrome, a heart rhythm disorder, and mitral valve prolapse, a type of heart disease. The combination of the three made him no stranger to heart palpitations, a sensation of rapid, skipped, or pounding heartbeats.

For the word palpitations, a vital hospital routine called rounds inspired me:

Pulpitation: The process in which those on a healthcare team take turns to preach their theory about how a patient is doing and what the care plan should be.

A phlebotomist is someone who takes samples of blood for testing. If you are a hard poke like Cullen usually is, you might relate to occasionally feeling like the phlebotomist is taking a rough day out on you:

Phlebotopist: Someone who is so angry they can draw blood.

Regurgitation has multiple meanings. The action of bringing swallowed food up again to the mouth is the one that influenced my next word creation:

Regurgistation: Where nurses go to wash and sanitize after a patient has thrown up on them. 

Next challenge accepted

The Mensa Invitational list I read also includes submissions in which readers are asked to supply alternate meanings for common words. Examples from that list are “Coffee: The person upon whom one coughs” and “Flabbergasted: Appalled by discovering how much weight one has gained.”

I’ve given this portion of the challenge the old college try as well.

An angiogram is an X-ray of the blood vessels injected with a dye that highlights any blockages. I think my definition is more appealing:

Angiogram: A message sent from heaven by an angel.

A defibrillator is an apparatus used to control heart fibrillation by the application of an electric current to the chest wall or heart. I changed the definition to reference people with a shocking ability of their own:

Defibrillator: A human lie detector. Someone qualified to translate a lie into truth.

Hemodynamics is the pressure measurements obtained during a right- and left-heart catheterization. The prefix “hemo-” means blood, so with that in mind, I changed the definition to the following:

Hemodynamics: A strong emotional bond between people who are blood-related.

Medication is a well-known word for a substance used for medical treatment, but perhaps it could have a double meaning:

Medication: A medical education that patients and caregivers gain through advocacy and experience. No degree is earned. 

A perfusion scan shows where blood flows in the lungs. I say perfusion is something that can make PH lungs very unhappy:

Perfusion: What it’s like to be in the presence of someone wearing too much cologne or perfume.

A ventilation scan shows where air flows in the lungs, but I describe the word ventilation to mean something that can help a person’s mental health:

Ventilation: The feeling of emotional release you get after venting your problems to someone.

I challenge you to change a medical word into your own creation and share it in the comments below.

Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.


Patricia Myers avatar

Patricia Myers

Indeed, there is no "Mensa Invitational," but since 1993, The Washington Post has featured a weekly humor/wordplay contest called The Style Invitational, named for the Style, or features, section where it appears. The lists you quote above consist mostly of results of two Invitational contests from 1998, with corruptions added over the year ("caterpallor" isn't a one-letter change from "caterpillar," for example).
The Invitational publishes a wide range of humor genres, including neologisms (coined words, like the ones above) several times a year. They're always clever and funny reading. Sign up for a free newsletter with no-paywall links to each contest at TheStyleInvitational.substack.com.
Pat Myers
The Empress of The Style Invitational

Perry Mamigonian avatar

Perry Mamigonian

Healthscare...... the organized provision of medical care to individuals or a community that results in temporary fear and anxiety. It's good to be back - Perry


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