Monday, July 23, 2007

Word Dares

I am a word geek.

It delights me to encounter unknown ones, try to figure out root meanings, dabble in different ways of applying regular ones. J.K.Rowling is brilliant at this kind of tweaking; who didn't immediately understand evocative terms like Dementor (demented + tormentor + demon), Pensieve (a sieve for one's thoughts when one had too many in one's brain [pensive=thoughtful]), or Kreecher (creature + creep + screach [the sneaky, ill-tempered house elf ]), to name but a few.

I'm especially fascinated by how completely new words are born. To me, this is the beauty of language; it is not a static or dead, but a dynamic, ever-growing organism. The ultimate successful evolutionary species, one could say, perfectly capable of adapting to changing circumstances to stay alive.

Also, it's democratic. Anyone can invent a new word and toss it into the public vocabulary pool. Whether it will sink or swim into general usage depends on many things, not least of which is exposure. Who first invented the word groovy? Bombastic? Fog? I don't know, but they captured the imagination of enough people to stand the test of time.

I think part of the role of writers is not just to use established words well, but to demonstrate how to play with them, and, yes, be bold in creating new ones. It can be our equivalent of artists who develop another style of painting, musicians who play a new sound, dancers who work out a different form of expressive movement.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying writers shouldn't take the time to learn about traditional writing vocabulary. I just think that there should be room for both - the well-known and also the avant garde.

My fellow writers - in the spirit of public service, let's be adventurous! Let's build new words and include cool creations of others in our work, without fear that our readers won't understand. Readers are smart. Chances are, they'll not only understand but enjoy a little something different. (Note: 'a little something'. Small doses are probably best.)

In a salute to the genius of word inventors everywhere,

I'm going to promote new word survival by regularly highlighting an example here,

and daring my gentle readers to share how they might use it in a sentence - even better, if it showcases the genre in which they write.

I'll kick things off with:

noun- the coattail, dress hem, or seat belt that hangs out the door of moving vehicles
(Wordsmith: Mallory Burton
Source: 'Wanted Words: Language Gaps Found and Fixed', Jane Farrow (Ed.)

And here's my contribution:
"Ella felt calm and confident in her choice of party-wear, oblivious to the fact that her undercarment was destined to drip slush equally on the venue floor and her reputation as a fashionista."

Go ahead. Thrill me with your contributions.


Christine d'Abo said...

I love it when people come up with new words. I like to hear them, play around with them and make them my own. It's a lot of fun. :)

Wylie Kinson said...

New words... Ah, I WISH I had the talent to create new ones, but I'm having trouble learning the ones that already exist! LOL

btw - M, I somehow 'misplaced' your email address. Please will you email it to me at thewatkinsons at (no spaces, obviously)
I've got TRW news to share.


Wylie Kinson said...

Me again... Nevermind. I found your email.

Amy Ruttan said...

I love new words I am trying to get Flugah out there. It's a word I use when sitting down right after you've been run off your arse for many a day.

Anonymous said...

HEE! What a great post. :) I love making up new words, too. One I recently came up with is "confuzzled", a combination of confused and bamboozled, having also a connotation of fuzzy-headed, LOL!

And I love your word "undercarment." Let's see, here's a sentence for you:

Watching Joan drive away with her new boyfriend, Joe felt a smidge of glee in the sight of the bottom of her snazzy skirt hanging as an undercarment, getting soggy in the pouring rain.