Why we need to invent new words

Andrew Kaufmann of the Guardian newspaper in London has an interesting POV. He thinks that instead of criticizing new words in the language and trying to squash them, we should be welcoming and even encouraging them.  He has a point. There’s nothing more aging than constantly saying “why can’t people talk properly, the way they did in my day?” Stephen Fry reminds us that if that attitude had prevailed, we’d all still be speaking Shakespearean English. Whereas, with the evolution of language, we can use the many words Shakespeare invented and enrich the language with new ones. Here’s the beginning of Andrew Kaufmann’s article:

Why we need to invent new words

Don’t let the dictionary define what you say. Make up your own words. Here are rules you need to follow

'What a cidiot!' Country folk know how to handle snow, unlike this urban driver. Photograph: Philippe Huguen

‘What a cidiot!’ Country folk know how to handle snow, unlike this urban driver. Photograph: Philippe Huguen

Do not be afraid to make up your own words. English teachers, dictionary publishers and that uptight guy two cubicles over who always complains about the microwave being dirty, they will all tell you that you can’t. They will bring out the dictionary and show you that the word isn’t there – therefore it doesn’t exist. Don’t fall for this. The people who love dictionaries like to present these massive tomes as an unquestionable authority, just slightly less than holy. But they’re not. A dictionary is just a book, a product, no different from Fifty Shades of Grey and only slightly better written. But you must be careful. Every new word must be crafted. It has to have a purpose, a need. A new word cannot be created with a fisted bash to a keyboard. Like every other word in the language, your new word should be a mashup of pre-existing words. You can steal bits from Latin and German, like everybody else did. Or you can use contemporary English in a new way. But you must capture something that already exists, which for whatever reason has been linguistically mismanaged. Here is an example:

Blursing: noun

When an event, gift, or circumstance presents qualities and consequences that are simultaneously positive and negative: Jenny was made partner but it was a blursing because her hours were so long that her husband left her.

Why not just say “curse and blessing”? Well, for one thing that is cumbersome. But more importantly, something that is both a curse and a blessing is different from a blursing.

And he’s got more words (cidiot, oprahcide, and bironical among others) in the rest of the article. Read it here.

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8 thoughts on “Why we need to invent new words

  1. We’ve certainly seen how language has evolved. What’s sad is how many languages are disappearing– a bit off track here, I realize. Yes, words can be made up! Yay, Dr. Suess!

  2. Dear cyclinggrandma, it’s Seuss, not Suess! (We can make up words, but not re-spell people’s names.)

    I wonder if the Guardian writer sees the New York Times magazine with its new word every week? Thanks, Gabi, for sharing this article.

  3. I think most writers do this to an extent. I know I do if it makes my prose flow better. I think my most common mashups involve adding suffixes and prefixes to words that typically only have one or the other. But, I figure as long as I follow grammatical conventions, my new words convey the meaning I intended, so there shouldn’t be a problem.

  4. Rita and I invented the word ‘dissed’ in the early 70s. Our friend had done something which obviously annoyed us because we were telling each other how dismayed, displeased, disgusted, disturbed, disbelieving, disgruntled etc etc etc we were with her, when we both suddenly shouted out that we were ‘dissed’. Almost fell off my chair when my daughter used it 40 years later. She doesn’t believe me that we made it up, but Rita and I know the truth.

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