Making up new words

Corinth Terwilliger, of St. Paul MN, writes:

Is it OK to make up new words?

It’s a power that, like any, can be used for good or evil. All words were new once. Long ago, humans had no words, and if none had been invented, we would still have none. There are times and situations that might make that seem preferable — political campaigns and the ravings of conspiracy theorists spring to mind as examples — but I think we’re better off overall for having words.

It is, however, possible to go too far. We have a lot of words already, especially in English, so there’s not a severe deficit of expressive power. Except from the perspective of Scrabble players, it’s a waste of brain space to add words for which perfectly adequate terms already exist. (BTW if you do want to create words for the benefit of Scrabble players, be liberal in your use of Z, Q and J, don’t be too much of stickler about putting a U after the Q, and remember that W can be a vowel).

William Shakespeare, whom some people confuse with a porcupine, is known for making up lots of words1 (as well as being fairly creative with the spelling of his own name). For many of these words, it’s hard to understand how folks ever got along without them. Gossip, elbow, lonely, bump… what else were we supposed to call these things?

Which is kind of the point. Ol’ Bill made up words because there wasn’t one that meant just what he wanted (plus there was only room for one more syllable on the line, and it had to rhyme with “rump”). Making up words just to be different (from one’s parents, say) is an annoying affectation; making up words that actually have something new to say, when we already have so many, is sheer genius.

So for instance, whether or not you agree with Stephen Colbert’s political views, if you’re fair you have to admit that his word “truthiness” really gets the point across.


1 Some would dispute Shakespeare’s claim to the position of premiere word inventor, but I’m still using that example to make my point because, you know, it has truthiness.

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2 comments

    • Anne Qwerty on 28 August 2013 at 5:43 am

    Cwwabunga!

    • Scott on 16 September 2013 at 12:16 am

    Sheer genius indeed. His works are splendid to read! lol.
    Definitely want to pick up some of his works and dive into them.
    I bet that would be another good way to get ideas on new words.

    Anyway, good read and info!
    Scott

    P.S. I like ‘truthliness’ as a better word!

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