1. Daniel
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    Daniel I'm sure you've heard the rumors. Founder Staff Contributor

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    Creating words when they don't exist (in general and in more formal writing)

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Daniel, May 22, 2013.

    Recently, while writing, I came across a situation that I wanted to share. I felt compelled to create my own word to convey a specific meaning - there didn't seem to be an existing word that came close to what I needed to convey in the length I needed to present it.

    Now, I know within fiction-writing the writer has a lot of freedom to break traditional rules. However, in my situation, this was an argumentative essay. Obviously, doing something like this in an essay would be untraditional, at best, and would cause a destruction of credibility, at worst.

    This is within an essay discussing the legitimacy of government. Here is the immediate context, followed by the word and definition I wished to use:

    I wanted a word that meant the actual opposite of apathy. Perhaps anti-apathy would have sufficed, but it didn't cut it for me; it was to ill-defined and clunky, and I'm unconvinced readers would fully appreciate what I meant were I to say anti-apathy. I don't even think it's the correct usage of the word; I'm not telling readers they should be against apathy, but rather that they should feel the opposite of apathy. I could have phrased it as the definition below (best choice, in my opinion), or phrased it as "...dissidence and the death of apathy." However, I wanted a single word, as I felt that would be much more powerful and compelling - this is a "extremist" argumentative essay, after all. It turns out there is no word (that I'm aware of or could discover) that really fits the definition of the opposite of apathy. All so-called antonyms of apathy were poor choices. Emotion, concern, interest, passion, sympathy: all poor and unacceptable options.

    So, compelled, - in the rough draft - I came up with my own word, with the definition in the footnote.


    *Antapathy (not to be confused with antipathy): a compelling feeling of invested concern which causes one to desire and compels one to take action for actual change.

    Now, of course, as this was a formal essay, I did not do this - but I really wanted to. There is also the major issue that the effect I wanted wouldn't be accurately conveyed to the reader because they'd never seen the word before - having to read a definition in a footnote would make it lose the compelling feeling I desired.

    Do you ever find yourself unable to find a word to convey precisely what you need to? Sometimes synonyms just don't cut it. Sometimes it seems the English language lacks certain words, words that should exist (even in more common word needs than this, I come across this somewhat often in everyday life). If this was done in an essay wouldn't it cause a loss of credibility? Is creating your own word and definition ever acceptable?
     
  2. Garball
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    Garball Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand. Supporter Contributor

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    Sometimes made up words can be perfectly cromulent
     
  3. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Sometimes a phrase works better than a single word (as in your case).

    Only to a certain extent. Sometimes people in academia make up words as a way to simplify a long phrase or something like that. However, these words are often field-specific jargon and aren't common words like in your example. As a reader, I wouldn't like coming across made-up words, and as a writer, I wouldn't include made-up words in an essay. Of course, this is just my opinion.
     
  4. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Of course it's acceptable to create new words. The only criteria is, do the readers buy what you created?

    I can't say antapathy is immediately recognizable. That could be an issue.

    Here are some recognizable newly created words:

    Sheeple
    Infomercial
    Docudrama
    Infotainment
    Mouse potato
     
  5. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Personally, I think if one is making up a word in non-fiction, it needs to be recognized as a 'new' word - and not just by use of a footnote. One shouldn't just drop in a made-up word and expect people to glance for the footnote and accept the usage. For one thing, confusion would be the first reaction, followed by loss of train of thought (both theirs and that which the author was trying to convey), followed by unhappy dismissal of much of what the author might say after that - because the reader is still thinking about that 'pretend' word and the person who thought it was okay to use it.

    Many new words and phrases come in to being via non-fiction - but the author (as far as the ones I've read in varying fields) define the word/phrase as they use it - many times using phrases like "One could say XXX" or "I call it, for simplicity, XXX". Everyone knows, as soon as the word or phrase comes up, that it's something new, not 'officially' recognized, and what the author means when s/he uses it. And if enough people reading the document like and accept the word and its definition, they will start using it and explaining it and eventually we have a new word in our dictionaries (or at least in the dictionary used in that field).
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Communication depends upon agreement that a certain element of communication corresponds to a real-life concept familiar to all parties,

    When you create a new word, you have the extra work to form that relation for all parties to the communication. If you do a poor job of it, all of the communication that relies heavily on that element (word) is poor as well.

    Bringing it tp written words, sometimes forming that relation ca be the primary focus of an entire piece of writing. Such is the case of grok in Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land. Other times, it's merely literary color, easily grasped, such as the common invective tanj (There Ain't No Justice) in Larry Niven's Known Space stories. In sill other cases, a specialized word becomes a well-understood shorthand once the term is solidified for the reader, such as Larry Niven's scrith, the unique material comprising the Ringworld floor/structural foundation.
     
  7. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    Where is the line drawn? At what point is too much? How many rights must be taken away? How horrendous must thier actions be to warrant at least dissidence and...

    If I read that, I would believe it was a word and would merely take the meaning from its context - probably because I couldn't be arsed looking it up so you definitely would have had me fooled!

    I make up words all the time and expect people to believe they are real, like Giantium or Gigantuum - both obviously meaning huge!
     
  8. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Cogito has actually given a beautiful rendition of the linguistic definition for a signifier, a.k.a a word, in his post. Under the umbrella of linguistics, the only thing needed to make a word valid is general acceptance of the group making use of it. That's it. Many languages possess academies that pretend to hold reign over their given language, but they are much ado about nothing. They have no control over the change of any language because that lies in the hands of The People. Always.

    But... I think the question here is less can and more should. Your point in such a paper is to convey meaning, not make people scratch their head over your coinage.

    What about simply passion or ferver.
     
  9. Daniel
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    Daniel I'm sure you've heard the rumors. Founder Staff Contributor

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    I agree that in an essay it wasn't appropriate, specifically because it wasn't highly relevant to the topic and was only used once. I guess I was just frustrate that a word didn't exist that I felt should.

    Good point. I suppose this is part of how new words are created and how language grows and evolves.

    I see. So recognized as a new word within the context of the paper, or by some other way? So if the essay was about political action, apathy, or how to "cure" apathy, creating and using antapathy might have been more appropriate and acceptable. The only time I've actually seen this done, where the author says that they "call it X," or whatever, is within philosophical writings, which is quite common. Aside from that I don't think I've consciously come a writer creating a word.

    So are you saying you can create a word as long as their is a perceived need for the word? In my case I don't have much recognition within the filed of political/academic writing, and I only would have used the word a single time, which would make it inappropriate/unnecessary?

    That's good to hear. I suspected that people would be able to derive the meaning of the word from both the context and the words stucture (containing "apathy" as the words base/root). I wonder if I would have used it how many readers would have accepted it and derived it's meaning and how many would have assumed it was a real, existing word, and if anyone would have looked up the word if they didn't know it (or think or derive that they do).

    I think this is spot on, and I completely agree. The people define the acceptability of language and new words by their use and acceptance of them. There is a perceived ability for such academics to create and coin words with validity, but I think must people realize - or would if they thought about it - that words are defined by how the people accept and use them.

    I apologize, but I'm not sure I understand when you say "less can and more should." Could you please elaborate? Are you just saying that while I can create the word, I shouldn't due to the purpose of the paper and because the purpose of the word is to convey meaning?

    I agree that in my case I needed to convey meaning, so using a new word would be counterproductive if the reader couldn't easily derive meaning from the context and word root. As for passion or fervor, those just don't quite cut it; I needed to convey the opposite of apathy. That is, I needed to describe apathy becoming inverted, becoming not just passion, but an invested passion that inspires the individual to take action for change. The only way I can discover to convey this idea is through the use of antapathy,or describing it by it's "definition" within the sentence. I suppose the use of it's "definition" was also a rather powerful way of phrasing it due to it's specificity (which is also why I felt it should be a word of it's own). I just needed to convey a very specific idea.

    What are everyones thoughts on the lack of words to convey things and ideas within everyday conversation and usage? Do you ever struggle to come up with the right word because it doesn't exist? Personally I try to use a precise word to convey a precise meaning when I can, and sometimes words just don't seem to exist that convey specific feelings and ideas. Is the English language limited in this way, or is it all languages? Or maybe it's just me.
     
  10. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    A topic often up for discussion in interpreter circles. :) Given the job we interpreters have, there are times when vocabulary comes one's way that simply has no clean interpretation into the target language. Because timeliness is of the essence in my job as much as accuracy, in these cases one simply has to describe in more than one word the concept that was encapsulated in the single term in the incoming language. There is a word in Portuguese that is so often used to show this that it has its own wiki page. The word is Saudade. It is often poorly interpreted as longing or nostalgia, but it means more than that. Its a pining for something never had or that may have never even existed. If you're a 90's kid and you love 80's films and feel a kind of pining for what it was to live during the 80's, that's saudade.
     
  11. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sorry - when I said "recognized", I meant the author acknowledges in some manner that it's a word s/he's made up to encompass the idea or concept more concisely. I've seen it done in politics, philosophy, science - and again, whether it becomes accepted depends on whether the audience agrees on how well the term matches the definition.

    The English language is somewhat limited, but at the same time, the people using it are also sometimes limited - just because we can't find or think of the word that works doesn't mean it doesn't exist already. Not that familiar with other languages, but I do know German is one which is very flexible - they just combine other words into one new one to convey their meaning. Personally, I don't have a problem using a phrase instead of a single word - and it's more precise, IMHO, than making up a word which then has to be explained/defined anyway.
     
  12. lostinwebspace
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    lostinwebspace Active Member

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    Can't you just use an existing word? I'm sure there are plenty of antonyms to "apathy."
     
  13. ECKS
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    ECKS Member

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    Yes. I'm familiar with this practice. It's very Lewis Carroll.
    It is best done when combining 2 words to get both of their meanings out of one.

    I've crafted the following out of some words I use too often:

    Ganjuxtapoz:
    Any piece of art created under the influence of cannabis.
    or
    Smoking cannabis with one other person (2 people smoking weed).

    Dissociopath:
    A person brought to sociopathy via either the dissociation of life or things like DXM, ketamine, or PCP.

    Eyeplosions:
    Fractal hallucinations akin to what might be seen on LSD, 2C-NBOME, DMT, etc.

    Yes, all of them are very drug related due to being from the same piece.
    I apologize if drug discussion is not allowed (Reading rules), but this is in the name of literature.
     

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