The Story behind the word for "armpit."

originally reported and written by Mark Shoulson (aka Seqram), slightly adapted for the wiki.

'I' has an interesting history, which can serve as a cautionary tale. Perhaps it is best to begin this tale in the middle.

On July 5th, 1996, Daniel Morse sent a letter to the mailing list in which he mentioned that Marc Okrand had added, about a year previously, the word 'I' to mean "armpit". This was immediately jumped upon by Steven Boozer, who was flabbergasted that he could have missed a new word, and also by Mark Shoulson, who was quite sure it was not really a word. And yet, Daniel Morse was still quite sure, even though nobody else could confirm the source. And in fact, several other readers seemed to remember hearing the new definition before, from "somewhere." Alan Anderson eventually tracked it down (1) to this message from July 27, 1995: (2)

I don't think it's a good idea either.  If we make up our own words and
usages freely, without having them "officially" recognized, how are we
going to grow?  Imagine you're some newcomer, all fired up with excitement
at having bought the Dictionary two days ago, eagerly thumbing it in your
hot little hands... You come on the list, and start furiously deciphering
someone's post.  You come across a word, "'I'" and flip through
dictionary... again and again and again... It's not there!  How are you
supposed to know it means "armpit"?

It turned out that Mark Shoulson himself, the very one who had been disputing the existence of the word, had invented it. A year previously, in July 1995, he sent a message to the discussion group decrying the use of words invented by individuals and not Marc Okrand. And he used 'I' as a hypothetical example, postulating a newcomer flipping through all the word-lists available and still being unable to discover that it meant "armpit". And so Daniel Morse had remembered it, but remembered it as a canon word, and it was also thus in everyone else's brains too and so seemed familiar. (3)

This all took place fairly shortly before the third qep'a'. At the qep'a' there was some discussion of the recent conversation, and during the course of pegh mu', our ever-popular qep'a' pastime of Klingon Password, the word noSvagh (deodorant) came up. And the entire audience sighed and laughed, realizing that 'I' (which was not yet a word) would be the perfect clue to pass, but was illegal since it wasn't a word. And Mark Shoulson, the contestant who had to pass the word, felt much the same. Later during the qep'a', after the arrival of Dr. Okrand, they told him the story, about the confusion over its status, and about the joke fate had played by having noSvagh show up in the game. And so he said, "well, you know what the Klingon word for armpit really is? 'I'." (4)

Comment by David Trimboli

I usually add my two cents here, because I was paying close attention to these event, and made sure to remember it clearly. During the qep'a', at a moment when everyone was (more or less) gathered around Marc Okrand, Mark Shoulson started relating to him the story of how Daniel Morse seemed to remember that 'I' meant armpit, but he wasn't sure of the source. I was pretty sure, by watching Marc's facial expressions, that he was trying to follow, but he seemed to be missing some vital piece of information. (If you've ever listened to Mark Shoulson tell an anecdote -- and if you've ever met Mark Shoulson, you've heard him tell at least one anecdote -- you will understand how Marc Okrand may have felt at this point.)

When the story was over, and everyone had a laugh at the idea of someone remembering (as real) an unreal word used to illustrate a point about not making up our own words, Marc finally asked, "How do you say armpit?" He looked like he genuinely wanted to know (he had memorized very little of the vocabulary at this time). Everyone turned to him and demanded, "Yeah! How do you say armpit?"

Marc caught on with this question, and tossed off the perfect answer like it was the most obvious thing in the world: "'I'!"

Comment by Mark Shoulson

Just a note on a note: I can confirm that indeed, Marc's reaction was as reported by David Trimboli. Makes it all worthwhile.


1 : "Re: mu'mey chu'... (was Re: KLBC)", message on the mailing list by Alan Anderson of July 08, 1996

2 : "Re: Klingon paintball", message on the mailing list by Mark Shoulson of July 27, 1995

3 : "Re: 'I'", message on the mailing list by Mark Shoulson of July 27, 1995

4 : "qep'a', mu' chu' je", message on the mailing list by Mark Shoulson of July 24, 1996

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