How to Make Up a Word

There are at least a quarter of a million words in the English language. I’m basing this on the Second Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, which contains entries for 171,476 words in current use, 47,156 words considered obsolete, and around 9,500 derivative words included as subentries (https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/explore/how-many-words-are-there-in-the-english-language/).

Yet we’re adding words all the time, like google as a verb, which is not surprising with the way our technology is advancing. One of my favorites is robot, which was coined by Czech playwright, novelist and journalist Karel Čapek (https://www.npr.org/2011/04/22/135634400/science-diction-the-origin-of-the-word-robot).

The beauty our language is anyone can add a word. If you can’t think of a word to communicate what you want, you can make one up. Such inventions are called nonce words — “coined and used apparently to suit one particular occasion sometimes independently by different writers or speakers but not adopted into use generally.” (https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/nonce%20word) Merriam-Webster uses the example ringday, as in “four girls I know have become engaged today: this must be ringday.”

Nonce words are not to be confused with nonsense words, which have no real meaning, like jabberwocky (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nonsense_word). They’re fun to think up, but will never make it into general usage.

Occasionally you hear a word and don’t know whether it is real or not. I’d never realized decider was a word until President George W. Bush used it. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos recently used complexifier, as in “Even though The [Washington] Post is a complexifier for me, I do not at all regret my investment.” Is it a real word? While some people aren’t convinced, yes, it is a real word, although more in French than English (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/08/business/complexifier-meaning-definition.htm).

So you never know. Maybe something you think up will end up in a dictionary someday. Just keep using it in social media and see if it catches on.

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