« previous post | next post »

The background: in 2009, the Bishop Miege high school football team had a 12-0 record and won the state championship in the 4A division. This year, they moved up to the 5A division. And according to Candace Buckner, "Bishop Miege’s step up into 5A not a hard one in opener", Kansas City Star, 9/4/2010:

[senior lineman Shane] Ray said, “Every article I read, it’s more so like ‘Miege is moving up to 5A, will they be able to compete against these other teams? And I don’t really like that. As a team, we don’t like that feeling of being underlooked because we did win a state title. Not any team can just win a state championship, otherwise everyone will have one.”

I mean, if you can overlook things, why shouldn't you be able to underlook something? (By not looking high enough, naturally.)

Note, by the way, that Mr. Ray's sentence needs to be parsed as

[we don’t like that feeling [of being underlooked]]  [because we did win a state title]


[we don’t like that feeling  [of being underlooked [because we did win a state title]]]

This is the sort of thing that's well marked by intonational phrasing in speech, but is more problematic in writing  — though perhaps a comma after underlooked would not have been amiss.

Jack Maloney, who sent in the link, wrote:

After no research and only a little thinking, I speculate that "underlooked" is a blend of "overlooked" and "underestimated."

And I think that he's probably right, as far as the thought processes of Shane Ray are concerned. But Mr. Ray is far from the first to think along similar lines. The OED has a literal sense "To look at, or inspect, from beneath", with citations back to 1682:

1682 HICKERINGILL Black Non-Conf. iii. 14 They would be Shepherds and feed his Sheep, and anoint them for the Scab, and underlook them.

And there's also a figurative sense, glossed as "To miss seeing by looking too low", which is exactly what Mr. Ray had in mind:

1802 BEDDOES Hygëia II. 56 Do they not underlook that sole essential condition to happiness, the inward state?

Is there a name for a coinage that re-discovers an old and rare word?


  1. Dhananjay said,

    September 4, 2010 @ 12:42 pm

    I propose "neo-con" – a word that cons you into thinking it's a neologism, but actually reinvents something old. Happily, the term neocon(servative) in its present-day usage is a neo-con many times over.

  2. Jason Crawford said,

    September 4, 2010 @ 1:39 pm

    A paleologism?

  3. Chris said,

    September 4, 2010 @ 2:03 pm

    Hmmmm…my intuition is that there is more to the parsing than intonation. I suspect that 'X verbed Y because Z' constructions a more frequently parsed where the 'because' constituent is attached to the main verb, as yourself had it with the sentence above. I

  4. Nathan Myers said,

    September 4, 2010 @ 2:15 pm

    I wonder whether the inherent self-contradiction in this word "neo-conservative" bothers any of its referents, or if the self-contradiction in all its related doctrines selects out those deaf to dissonance. What would be the corresponding word for a complacent reactionary?

  5. Bill Walderman said,

    September 4, 2010 @ 2:34 pm

    The next step, of course, is "misunderlook."

  6. Bill Walderman said,

    September 4, 2010 @ 2:36 pm

    And doesn't "underlook" mean exactly the same thing as "overlook?"

  7. Chris said,

    September 4, 2010 @ 4:01 pm

    @Bill, no, I don't think they're the same semantically. To 'overlook' means to miss entirely. To 'underlook' means to see but not give proper weight to. I rather like it. E.g., 'Sharapova has been underlooked since her injury.'

  8. Suzanne Kemmer said,

    September 4, 2010 @ 4:18 pm

    I propose reologism, i.e. a re-neologism.

    I agree with the blending analysis "UNDERestimate x overLOOK" (I use an "x" for 'crossed with/blended with'). By the way, lexical blending as a research topic is alive and well, see the site for the
    International Conference on Lexical Blending, Lyon, France, 10-11 June 2010

  9. Ralph Hickok said,

    September 4, 2010 @ 4:20 pm


  10. mgh said,

    September 4, 2010 @ 5:37 pm

    I'm looking under
    a semantic wonder
    that I underlooked before…

  11. James said,

    September 4, 2010 @ 6:14 pm

    "You can't try to understand it. You got to OVERstand it." –Some Rastafarian or other (tip o' the hairpiece to Robert Stone).

    Underlook seems a useful, as well as a very pretty, word, and I resolve to use it when the circumstances are just right.

  12. Electric Dragon said,

    September 4, 2010 @ 6:43 pm

    To 'overlook' means to miss entirely. To 'underlook' means to see but not give proper weight to.

    Perhaps a blend of overlooked and underrated then?

  13. Mr Fnortner said,

    September 4, 2010 @ 6:58 pm

    @Nathan Myers, neo-con(servative) is a conservative that follows a new conservative philosophy, including an increased role for a strong central government in domestic welfare and international military adventures, among other things. This is in contrast with a paleo-con(servative) who adheres to the more traditional conservative philosophy of a minimized central government, non-imperialistic foreign policy, and a curtailed role for government in social services. Others will have better explanations, I'm sure, but my point is that a neo-con is not a newly minted conservative.

  14. Kylopod said,

    September 4, 2010 @ 8:35 pm

    This is related to something I've wondered about, what is the difference between an overtone and an undertone? Those words seem to be used interchangeably most of the time, and though I suspect there's a subtle difference between the two, they aren't opposites.

  15. Ben Zimmer said,

    September 4, 2010 @ 8:49 pm

    Recently suggested terms for "rediscovered" words rely on the metaphor of dormancy: "Sleeping Beauties" and "Rip Van Winkles." See here and here.

    [(myl) Nice. I like both of these terms, though neither metaphor really quite captures the sense of re-invention, which is more like Robert Merton's idea of "anticipatory plagiarism" (On the Shoulders of Giants, p. 23).]

  16. Kylopod said,

    September 4, 2010 @ 8:52 pm

    Though commentators like Irving Kristol adopted the term "neoconservative" in the 1970s, nowadays it's most often used in a pejorative sense and applied to people who do not self-identify by the term. Furthermore, much of the time it is simply a label for just about anyone who takes a hawkish approach to American involvement in the Middle East, regardless of their positions on other issues. The term has even been applied to liberals like Thomas Friedman and Alan Dershowitz, whose views on domestic policy and even foreign policy to a large degree are basically left-of-center. Some people see the term as a code word for "Jew," since a lot of the people associated with the term are Jewish, though it is also frequently applied to non-Jews like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, and of course most Jews are not conservatives.

  17. Disfraz said,

    September 4, 2010 @ 9:18 pm

    OED has this relevant entry for undertone:
    "fig. An underlying tone (of feeling, etc.); a subordinate or unobtrusive element; an undercurrent."
    And this for overtone:
    "fig. A subtle or elusive implication or association; a connotation. Freq. in pl. Cf. UNDERTONE"

    So it seems like they have the same meaning, at least according to the OED. Personally I would use overtone as something a little more obvious than an undertone.

  18. Marc said,

    September 4, 2010 @ 9:19 pm

    I'm waiting for the first Congressional undersight committee.

    I always thought that oversight committee sounded strange given the two very different meanings of oversight.

  19. Lauren said,

    September 4, 2010 @ 10:54 pm

    In knitting, the term "unventing" is used to describe the situation in which a knitter independently develops a technique that is already known to others. I think a rediscovered word could similarly be described as having been "unvented."

  20. Mr Fnortner said,

    September 5, 2010 @ 11:18 am

    I interpret undertone to be the theme, bias, or aim of an utterance, while the overtone is the perceptible attributes of the utterance that can be interpreted to reveal its purpose. "The stimulus package is without a doubt the best that the Obama administration can do for the country." This sentence has an undertone of belittling deprecation, while it carries an overtone of biting sarcasm. (Somebody correct me.)

  21. Jean-Sébastien Girard said,

    September 5, 2010 @ 12:13 pm

    I seem to recall referring to these as "repeated coinages" in a Wiktionary discussion.

  22. groki said,

    September 5, 2010 @ 1:49 pm

    @Mr Fnortner: yeah, undertone and overtone are definitely different for me (a difference which I detect in the quoted OED references).

    the "chronology" of a speech act might be crudely represented:
    (1) I have a sense of something I want to communicate ->
    (2) I express the actual words ->
    (3) inferences from what I said can be drawn

    for me, undertone concerns (1), the realm of pre-verbal motivation and "real" intent (eg: undertone of menace). overtones are about (3), what else of interest might also be said in consequence of my actual language (eg: overtones of facism in neocon policy recommendations). and tone itself covers (2).

    (incidentally, id/ego/super-ego and roots/tree/leaves are two further metaphors reminiscent for me of undertone/tone/overtones.)

  23. Iulus said,

    September 5, 2010 @ 2:15 pm

    As someone who has said "underlook" before, I don't think it's a blend.

  24. George said,

    September 5, 2010 @ 8:38 pm

    I think that senior lineman Ray intended the opposite of 'overlooked' (in the sense of not being noticed). As a result of winning a state title, they are getting too much scrutiny and attention, i.e. 'underlooked.'

  25. dirk alan said,

    September 5, 2010 @ 9:13 pm

    the perfect amount of scrutiny is goldilooked

  26. Jonathan D said,

    September 5, 2010 @ 9:42 pm

    Surely this is missing by looking too low, as in the OED gloss. The blend explanation makes much more sense, althought exactly what is going on with the 1802 quote is made confusing by generality of "overlook".

  27. John said,

    September 6, 2010 @ 11:26 am

    Is it not possible that the 1802 usage was equally odd and does not reflect a word in widespread (or narrowspread) use?

  28. George said,

    September 6, 2010 @ 4:05 pm

    John: "Is it not possible that the 1802 usage was equally odd and does not reflect a word in widespread (or narrowspread) use?"

    That is a good question. I wonder what the criteria are for an entry in the OED. But, I suspect that an attested, one-off (or highly unusual) occurrence would not qualify.

  29. Atmir Ilias said,

    September 6, 2010 @ 9:07 pm

    Let’s first broke some rules.
    We have to assume that the paragraph looks like it has no coherence and the relationships among ideas are not clearly to the reader.
    The essential part of all is “the state companionship title”, which is also the intention of each school football team, a referred point in Y-axis, the best point on it. Y-axis refers to the vertical height of the championship classification.
    “a 12-0 record in the 4A and win the championship ” ,the referred point, is the normal point of being ‘looked’ by the others, or it’s a ‘normal-looked’.
    ”Are able to be competitive”- They don like that because of the fear of having no anymore “a record 12-0” , like in the state championship 4A.The others think that they have to win every game, and the football team do not “like being Under-Looked” , if it is not going to happen.
    The essential part is the referred point Y-axis, in our case “Win a championship”, and just the final: one “Yes” ,or one “NO” ,the possession of it .We have a series of “Yes-No”.
    If it is “yes”, it is a “normal-looked”. If it is a “No”, it is “Under-looked”.
    The consequences:”Win-Yes”, normal “looked”. “Win-No”, “under-looked”.
    At the end, they do not like that a series of “No”, during the season, giving bad fillings like “Under-looked”; “..because we did win the state 4A title”-the others want a ‘yes’ again, that in his eyes is ‘being under-looked”, or under expected position; or even to have the same effect at the end of championship; “Not any team can just win a state championship, otherwise everyone will have one”, that is again in his eyes the “Under-Looked #2”, that means below the expected final position, Champion.
    What does under mean?
    It is static concept and it is referred to another object unstated. It is fixed, or it stays in one lower point than the other referred unstated object, no matter how is the high; or otherwise said: It is lower than a point in a referred dimension scale, the Y –axis dimension (without consider the negative values).
    What does look mean?
    To employ one's sight, especially in a given direction or on a given object. The given object is the picture “the team that won the Championship in the 4A”

  30. John G said,

    September 6, 2010 @ 9:51 pm

    It may be a a neo-Palinism, though whether it will appeal to neo-cons as a result, we don't yet know. It seems pretty clearly (to me) to mean 'underestimated', since there seems to be no lack of attention being paid to the team (thus no /tone of being overlooked), just too much (for the speaker) scepticism whether the team will repeat its winning ways in the higher division.

    I think that 'underlook' fills a more useful role if it means a combination of overlooked and underestimated – the verb used to describe the treatment of a sleeper (before the awakening).

    Mr Ray should refudiate the use of 'underlook' when he just means 'underestimate'.

  31. maidhc said,

    September 7, 2010 @ 4:05 am

    "it's more so like" is what jumps out at me as being strange. Even given the usage "He's like 'what?'".

  32. richard howland-bolton said,

    September 7, 2010 @ 10:27 am

    Blow Away the Morning Dew:

    He looked east, he looked west,
    He gave an underlook
    And there he spied a fair pretty maid
    A-swimming in the brook…

  33. Will said,

    September 13, 2010 @ 6:10 pm

    while i see that "underlooked" could be some combination of "underestimated" and "overlooked", it also possible that it's simply a combination of "under" and "looked" (i.e. "looked at in an 'under' way"), without any direct connection to the word "overlook" other than the similarities in form (granted, very salient similarities). analyzed like this, it would be analogous to "downplayed".

    and i had the same reaction as @maidhc to "it's more so like" — i actually stumbled over that and read it again and still wasn't sure if it meant something more than introducing a quote. i suspect the "so" was some sort of filler or speech error that went uncorrected and then unedited in print.

RSS feed for comments on this post