It must be an odd and amusing moment for members of the American Dialect Society when they select their annual word of the year. It’s a brief moment of fame, a chance to crop up on the front page of the Style section and in filler segments on "Morning Edition", but the words and phrases the select are so often ephemeral: "Mother of All", millenium bug, chad, information superhighway. The coining of words and phrases that last are scattershot; when Sheridan wrote his punningly-named Mrs. Malaprop into The Rivals, did he htink that he would be introducing an entire neatly packaged concept into the English language? Lewis Carroll’s portmanteau words were an amusing game (from a man who loved games), but "chortled" (part "snorted", part "chuckled") well and thoroughly stuck, providing translators with something to chew on. When Gen. Ambrose Burnside gave his barber some most unusual instructions, did he think that an entire category of facial hair would be named after him? And then someone had to deny Burnside his chance at lasting fame from people other than Civil War buffs who recall his failures at Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania and Brown University students mooning around Swan Point Cemetary when someone misunderstood "burnsides" as "sideburns." San Francisco Chronicle columnist Jon Carroll is a tireless popularizer of mondegreens (the term is from Sylvia Wright’s mishearing of "The Bonnie Earl of Murray"), misunderstood and frequently hysterical song lyrics of which Jimi Hendrix’s "Excuse me while I kiss this guy" may be the best example. But the phenomenon is an old one, and responsible for words much longer lasting than any sniglet. "Adder", "apron", and "umpire" were originally "nadder", "napron", and "noumpere", just as "nickname" was "ekename" before that pesky indefinite article got in the way. Hoppin’ john was quite pois pigeon, stories about John hopping around the table notwithstanding (unless, of course, it was just a misunderstanding of an obsolete term, "hopping"). In Arkansas alone, you can visit Smackover, Pair o’ Geese, and Buggywitch, the Anglicized replacements for "Chemin Couvert", "Pirogue", and "Bourgawich." So when a dashing young pilot bailing out over the English Channel in a war movie will call in a "Mayday" even in the middle of winter; the term is an international radio convention settled upon by virtue of its similarity to the French for "Help me!", "M’aidez!" It has absolutely nothing to do with the calendar year, pagan fertility rituals, labor demonstrations, or Soviet propaganda, except when headline writers get very, very lucky.