All of us old enough to be allowed to walk down the street by ourselves have experienced that peculiar encounter with an oncoming stroller characterized by dance-like and indecisive movements from side to side, as each participant helplessly fences with the other in an effort to avoid a head-on collision. This raises not one but three questions: (1) is there a word for this type of encounter, and if so, (2) what is it? (3) Whatever happened to "keep to the right" as a guiding principle for pedestrian traffic? Your answers to these questions will help immeasurably in my personal campaign to re-educate the public in the niceties of moving right along. Think how I will impress total strangers if I can emphasize to them the value of keeping to the right in order to avoid "— ing."
Illustration by Slug Signorino
Let’s keep this talk of “—-ing” to a minimum, J.; we’re trying to run a family column around here. I am pleased to report that at least one attempt has been made to give a name to the little two-step you describe: shuggleftulation, “the actions of two people approaching, trying to get around each other, and muttering ‘thanks for the dance’.” My source here is Rich Hall’s Sniglets (Collier Books, 1984), a sniglet being “any word that doesn’t appear in the dictionary, but should.” Other sniglets, as long as we’re on the subject, include elecelleration, “the mistaken notion that the more you press an elevator button the faster it will arrive,” and pupkus, “the moist residue left on a window after a dog presses its nose to it.” Worthy though these efforts may be, I can’t help thinking “shuggleftulation” doesn’t quite cut the mustard, so I’ve been trying to think up something better. The possibilities so far include sidewaltz, minueticate, and (my personal favorite) doing the concrete quadrille. No sensitive person can fail to be impressed by the poetry of these suggestions. However, if anyone has ideas of his or her own, and is desirous of seeing same immortalized in print, I am invite you to submit them forthwith.
The Teeming Millions come through!
Let me suggest “ambi-ambulation.” Catchy, huh? I also like it because the repetition of the letters “a-m-b” verbally recapitulates the actual physical side-to-side movement which typifies this phenomenon.
When I was in the 12th grade at Waggener High School in Louisville, Kentucky, my English teacher, Mr. Day, had our class collectively think up a term for the phenomenon in question. The word we invented was “awkstep,” or, in the gerund form, “awkstepping.” I think it really catches the minor social embarrassment inherent in the act.
Could there possibly be a better word for it than “avoidancing”?
William Safire once described the sidewalk dance (“shuggleftulation”) as “faux pas de deux.” I don’t often agree with Mr. Safire, but I like that phrase.
Impressed as I am with “sidewaltz” and “doing the concrete quadrille,” my personal choice to replace “shuggleftulation” is “simuljuke.” “Juke,” as far as I know, has its origins in American football — the evasive fakes of a running back.
Yeah, right. My slang dictionaries say “juke” means, among other things, “to tour roadside bars, usually with one of the opposite sex,” or “to coit a woman.” Pervert.
Send questions to Cecil via email@example.com.