Holy Holophrase! Sparta author turns annoyances into words

Sparta. El McMeen invites one and all to give it a try: Take a common aggravation and make up a word for it.

Sparta /
| 25 Mar 2021 | 03:31

You’re at the grocery store, and another customer is doing dumb things and clogging the aisle. You have encountered “Dopeandhoggin.”

When your cat refuses to use the scratching pole, she is practicing “Polavoid.”

When the tailgater passes you at warp speed, you are experiencing a feeling of “Mayacopseeya.”

Leave it to El McMeen of Sparta, the author of these gems, to come up with and get published — during a pandemic, no less — a book all about holophrases.

A holophrase is a single-word phrase that expresses a complete, meaningful thought. McMeen’s book, “Holy Holophrase! Naming Your Favorite Aggravations,” takes common aggravations and makes up words for them.

“Your cat misbehaves or you suffer indignities while driving, while at the supermarket or in the doctor’s office,” McMeen said. “You grumble but have an idea: holophrases. Let’s make up a word to capture our annoyance.”


The book idea was born when Tina Kelley, who lives in Maplewood, expressed interest in McMeen’s guitar music and hosting a house concert. She ordered some of his CDs, and the two continued a back-and-forth about music.

“This was either serendipitous or, as I firmly believe, a divine connection and answer to a yearning I had last year to write a book,” McMeen said. “The Lord saw that I wanted to write a book, even though I didn’t have any idea of the topic. But He did, and it came out of left-field to me.”

McMeen noticed that Kelley’s e-mail signature line included some books she had written.

“She, it turns out, is a prize-winning author and poet,” he said. “On impulse, I sent her my memoir, ‘Growing Up in God’s Country.’”

Time passed.

Then, on Dec. 19, 2020, McMeen received a book from Kelley in the mail. It was a book of poetry called “Ardor.”

“I looked through the book and fastened on one poem with the fascinating title of ‘Dispatch from the Office of the Creator of Words,’” he said. “It was a whimsical piece on holophrasis: that is, finding a word to fit a whole situation. She recounted different scenarios that represented definitions in search of words. She didn’t really intend the reader to do this, I’m sure, but I took it on myself to invent words to fit her scenarios.”

McMeen sent her the page and offered to co-write a book with her on something like this. She was on deadline with a book of her own but said he should go ahead and write it.

Kelley discovered El McMeen’s music on Pandora. “It is so gorgeous and calming and profound,” she said. “When Googling him, I noticed he lived in New Jersey. I reached out on Facebook to see if he’d ever do a house concert. I bought some of his CDs as presents for friends, and he would throw in an extra complimentary disk or other thoughtful gesture.”

She sent him, in thanks, her chapbook, ‘Ardor,’ which won Jacar Press’s chapbook contest in 2017. “It has a poem in it about people who make up words, and that’s where he saw the word ‘holophrasis,’” Kelley said. “He got all inspired to make up words and do a book about it, and asked me to join, but I was approaching a scary non-fiction book deadline, so I declined.”

She had his music playing in the background for most of those stressful weeks leading up to her deadline. “I am amazed at how quickly he could be so funny in the book!” she said. “And I am honored to have had a tiny part in inspiring it.”

Once Kelley encouraged McMeen to do the book on his own, he took the ball and ran with it. The book was done a week later.

“If I hadn’t noticed her signature line, or sent her my book, or if she hadn’t sent me that particular book, or if I hadn’t read that poem, or hadn’t tried to do those holophrases, my book would not exist,” McMeen said.

The book also includes euphemisms – “taking difficult subjects and making them sound nice and pleasant,” McMeen said. “My two favorites in the book are one that has to do with airplanes landing and one having to do with drugs (legal ones). There are plenty of others that will have you laughing and making up your own holophrases.”

“Holy Holophrase” is available at booklocker.com and on Amazon at amazon.com.

“Your cat misbehaves or you suffer indignities while driving, while at the supermarket or in the doctor’s office. You grumble but have an idea: holophrases.” El McMeen