Word Creation


It's not just the mangled English of sloppy street language that creates new words.  Poets and other writers do it.  Just think of the word "puddle-wonderful” from the poem by e.e. cummings "In Just Spring”.  Puddle-wonderful creates a “synergy” (from two Greek words meaning “works together”) that paints a picture greater than either word used with the other.

How about the word “proglem” which I used in my technology blog.  Proglem could be used to describe a problem with computer programs and it was an inadvertent but not inappropriate coinage.  But does proglem describe those problems better or more precisely?  That is always the question.  Does the coined word give us a new perspective on the world?  Does it create a picture which is greater than the sum of the parts? Is it more precise?

I recently read an essay by one of my favorite authors (Eugene H. Peterson).  His doctor told him about the word “iatrogenic”: an illness contracted in the process of being treated for something else.  In his case, it was knee surgery from which he contracted a staph infection.  However, thinking about that word which is a combination of two Greek words, “iatrose” meaning healer and “genic” meaning origin, he coined the word “eusebigenic”, eusebeia meaning “righteous” and genic meaning “origin” to describe an illness in the church originating from self-righteous people which churches tend to create.  But enough of the Greek.  The French have also coined words such as parapluie—para meaing “for” and pluie meaning “rain”—their word for umbrella.

Returning to English, how about “putrus”.  What does that mean to you?  I placed it in a poem to try to describe the oozing putrid stuff of spring that I see on my walks.  I didn’t think it worked and replaced it with putrid.  Some new words, like Eugene Peterson’s eusebigenic are not meant to last past the opening of the chapter in his book.  Others like puddle-wonderful have lasted decades for me.  Consider the words you hear and read.  Are they old or recently created.  Do they work?  Will they stay with you for a long time.  Have you or anyone close to you coined words that are now part of your vocabulary?

And just for your further education, this process is called neologism (neo meaning “new”,  logos “word” and “ism” turns the others into a noun). Lewis Carroll in his poem “Jabberwocky” coined so many words that you’ll need to read the poem to find them all.  Many authors have coined  or generated words directly or from their characters or titles.  Here are just a few.  William Gibson “cyberspace” from his novel Neuromancer.  “Quixotic” from Miguel Cervante’s character Don Quixote.  “Catch-22” from Joseph Heller’s novel of the same name.

Let me know of any new words you find intriguing or useful.

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