1. Lucy E.
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    Lucy E. Contributing Member

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    Inventing new words?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Lucy E., Oct 12, 2008.

    A member recently said in another thread:

    'I am aware words like slothed or cheeta'ed are not words, but they are cool and I doubt any reader would have a hard time understanding them used as verbs. We invent new verbs all the time.'

    In my personal opinion, randomly inventing new words confuses readers and shows lack of professionalism...that's just my view, and might be completely incorrect, but if a writer doesn't have a fitting word in his/her vocabulary or can't find one in the Dictionary, then is inventing words really the best way to go? And what are agents'/publishers' views on it?
     
  2. Iris Reola
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    Iris Reola Member

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    I agree that it seems very unprofessional. The "verbs" that they are inventing could easily be replaced by simple phrases.

    Examples:

    1. He wandered the streets slinking with sloth-like speed.

    2. The surge of adrenaline made him react with the reflexes of a cheetah.

    However, there are books in which the author created new words and used them frequently. The Harry Potter series does this, but the definition is usually fairly clear. A Clockwork Orange also contains many invented words, but I had a very difficult time reading it and understanding what was going on.
     
  3. Puppet121
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    Puppet121 Member

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    I actually prefer them because it adds realism to the story. The story shouldn't have all the vocabulary of the real world. It's something out of this world in a way. It leads to imagination and creativity. Where in real life we would never use those world. But since it's an entirely different world with places that are named real life cities, it's still different. They use that word in they're regular vocabulary.

    EDIT: I thought you were saying new words that are said by the characters. I agree with you it it's only for the reader to see. But my point above still stands.
     
  4. Lucy E.
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    Lucy E. Contributing Member

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    I agree that new words said my the characters is fine (e.g. the words used in The BFG), but what I'm referring to is words used outside of thoughts/dialogue.

    For example:

    He slothed along the pavement.

    Personally, I think that's very unprofessional.
     
  5. Palimpsest
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    Palimpsest Senior Member

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    I've seen it work. I've been told that Shakespeare made up a lot of the words we use in English today, and he ought to have been professional. There's a children's book out there about how the MC gets everybody to call the pen a "frindle". I remember that bit in Alice Through the Looking-Glass where Humpty Dumpty talks about portmanteau words. Neal Stephenson's "phant'sy" I really wish would become a Real Word already, and I've read somewhere if we can get any word out in a certain number of different sources in a certain amount of time then it will have to become a real word.

    That means "irregardless" is too a word, because, hey, shouldn't "beheaded" mean "to bestow somebody with a head"? Deheaded should be the process of removing someone's head, and escalators going down should be called descelators.

    I digress. Point is, English is a living language. In English, many nouns eventually can become verbs (penned, airbrushed, knifed...) and "slothed" and "cheeta'ed" follow that rule.

    That said, I don't think those particular words work :rolleyes: Not so many people in the English-speaking world live in the African Savannah or the zoo or are so familiar with those animals through documentaries. What's next, "She tuatara'ed keenly," meaning she had an extra eye and expanded perception? No, no, I will support linguistic experimentation in principle, and will never discourage the courageous as unprofessional, but the relevance of the results should be tested against the clarity of the story-- not against what's "cool."

    P.S. I hated A Clockwork Orange.
     
  6. KP Williams
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    KP Williams Contributing Member

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    I say, so what if it's unprofessional? Maybe that's what you're going for, such as in a story where light humor features prominently. And it would definitely seem not so out of place if it's done in, say, a first-person story about a young teen or something. Someone who would actually use words like that.
     
  7. Lucy E.
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    Lucy E. Contributing Member

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    As I said, it's fine if it's a character's dialogue/thoughts.
    Maybe I wasn't clear...I meant writing in general, e.g. a serious fantasy story.
     
  8. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. It's when the writer goes out of their way to invent a word when there's something already in existence which works just fine, or uses words that are too arcane, or does it too often that it becomes a problem IMO.

    People aren't familiar enough with cheetahs and sloths to understand what those would mean if turned into verbs?? Excuse me?? :confused: When I was in elementary school, for crying out loud, I knew what cheetahs and sloths were and what they were known for. I even had a T-shirt with racing cheetahs which said, "Cheetahs never win."

    For the record, sloth is also a noun referring to laziness. (Seven deadly sins, anyone?) So to turn it into a verb doesn't seem like such a stretch. I don't see anything wrong with "slothed," and think it's rather inventive (certainly a lot less clunky than "slinking with sloth-like speed"), but that's mainly because the word's meaning is very clear and it sounds all right coming off the tongue.

    "Cheetah'ed" is another matter entirely. It doesn't spell or sound out easily, and the meaning might not be quite as clear. Cheetahs are fast but they're known for other things as well, plus, there are other speedy animals out there so their speed isn't unique. The sloth is an animal VERY well known for its slowness, on the other hand (similar to the tortoise), plus, as I said, there's the double meaning of the word already in existence. "Sloth" already means more than just some weird furry animal hanging about in trees.

    So it varies. Don't go out of your way to be creative coming up with new words, but on the other hand, don't be afraid to try it out now and then (if necessary).
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I'd recommend against doing so on a regular basis. An occasional, well chosen use of a cleverly coined word may capture a reader's whimsy, but if you do it often, people will think you simply don't know the language.
     
  10. marina
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    marina Contributing Member Contributor

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    You see words that have been "slanged" in poetry and urban realistic fiction; so if it works within the context of the story or environment/atmosphere you're trying to convey, I think it could work. This would especially be the case in poetry, of course.

    I don't think it's a lack of professionalism that could be problematic, but if your invented words don't really jive with the story or the characters, or if you overuse them--that's what could be problematic.

    I wish I had some examples that I've seen in books I've read, but I cannot think of one at the moment...

    Ah, one example I can think of is a sci-fi book in which the protagonist uses the word "speck" in place of a swear word. But there, like Cogito recommends, it's occasional and is clear that the writer is using it purposefully.

    EDIT: See Neal Stephenson's new book Anathem for heavy use of invented words.
     
  11. Palimpsest
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    Palimpsest Senior Member

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    Much better reasons. :redface: It seems my education was patchy.

    I think "slanged" could work too, but you think we'll ever accept something really useful, like a gender-neutral pronoun that doesn't talk down or make weird plurals, or an inclusive/exclusive "we"?
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Inventing words to color a dialect is a different matter. If you have a future society, or a fantasy realm, you may well want to add words that relate to that environement. You still don't want to overdo it, and you want the words to feel natural in that dialect.

    But insofar as creating words in anonymous narration (i.e. not narration IN a character's voice), I'd generally steer away from it. You're far more likely to annoy the readers than amuse them.
     
  13. Scarlett_156
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    Scarlett_156 Active Member

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    The writers whose names are presented here as examples of how the "made-up-word" thing can work are writers generally acknowledged as master craftsmen of writing. For an amateur writer to make up words and be defensive about same ("this is my style, this is how I write, I'm being creative, deal with it") means that no one is going to want to read what he/she is writing. If someone gives me something to read that's full of made-up words, I don't read it. That person can piss and moan all he wants about me not being open-minded, ya know? If I have to work to understand something that I'm reading, then I don't want to read it and I won't unless I have to.

    Lewis Carroll did not start out as a writer by making up words; he wrote for a long, long time, and taught writing to others, before he came up with his stories which became so popular. Shakespeare was a professional writer in a very competitive field, and wrote for popular consumption. He had mastery of his craft BEFORE he started fiddling with new concepts--he was known primarily as a playwright whose work was popular with ordinary people. You know how those "ordinary people" are! They want stuff they can understand.

    If one gains mastery of writing, then whatever made-up words one wants to interject into the writing are going to seem natural; the reader is going to get their meaning right away, or if not their actual meaning (I'm thinking of A Clockwork Orange here) then will be able to figure them out from context, i.e., the way they're used.

    There's this one guy who used to send me his writing to review all the time. It was fantasy type stuff and it was ok at first--not great, but ok--and after I got familiar with his world and characters, he started getting more daring and making up these brand-new words that were supposed to represent emotions or concepts--I'm not gonna give specific examples because of the chance he might read this and it would hurt his feelings.

    The thing is, he would have to go into A LOT of detail to get these ideas across to me. It was obvious the guy was really into manga and anime, and so a lot of his "new words" had to do with various modes of conflict (you know, like in tae kwan do where there are like 100 different words to describe how to punch somebody) and also various conceptualizations of aspects of divinity.

    After a few months of this I was thoroughly bored and stopped responding to his emails.

    A writer should always love his or her own writing, but he/she should also always keep in mind that others cannot be expected to have the same love, or even any love, for his writing.

    When a writer says to me, "This is how I write, I'm being creative, I don't have to follow your rules, deal with it," my reply these days is invariably:

    No, that is incorrect. I don't have to deal with it, and now that you've pissed me off, I'm not GOING to deal with it. When you're famous, feel free to come back and get all over my case about how rude I was to you--that is, if you become famous for anything but large amounts of FAIL.

    yours in Chaos, Scarlett
     
  14. chad.sims2
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    chad.sims2 Contributing Member

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    Actually I think that makeing new words can fit in vary well with 'certain' peices. An example is that scifi show... what's it called? Darn, brain fart but well they have lots of words invented like "frak" instead of "fu&(" stuff like that shows a change in how people speak over time which adds to the realize.

    Another example is for a commedic element. Like the other day I was sitting in some brefing that was vary informative but extreamly boreing so when someone asked me how it was I replied with "Fant-awful." Cheerfully and got a hearty laugh from the guy. If used right new words work great if used wrong they make you look like an idiot.
     
  15. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    [​IMG]

    (The subtext is: "Except for anything by Lewis Carroll or Tolkien, you get five made-up words per story. I'm looking at you, Anathem")

    I think that sums up my opinions on this.
     
  16. zorell
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    zorell Contributing Member

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    Personally, dialogue is one thing, but leave the dictionary alone. If the words seem common sense within context, then the reader might not even realize the word isn't common.

    Also, if it's narrated by the main character, it's normal to integrate slang into the narration because people naturally talk that way.
     
  17. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    it's not 'unprofessional' if done successfully... and it's done by the best/most successful writers more often than you might suppose...

    if overdone or poorly done, it would look amateurish, however...

    so, like everything in writing and the other arts, one can get away with it if one is better at it than most... and can't, if not...
     
  18. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, after reading mammamaia's comment, I think Banzai's chart should look more like this:

    http://www.lasthumanwar.com/probability.html

    LOL
     
  19. TheAdlerian
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    TheAdlerian Senior Member

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    I was just going to write that.

    Some reviews have people putting the book down after a few pages. Others seem to love looking up the words in the back and count the difficulty as quality. My opinion is to avoid, unless the story was amazing and his does not.

    I've mentioned that I used to work for the prison system and now I work in the Philly ghetto areas. The amount of slang is amazing, especially in the prison. My mind would work at super speed trying to get the referrences which were at the root of the slang. Sometimes I wait for other words to be used to get context, then figure it out from there. I rarely ask because slang for uneducated people is a source of self-esteem and asking can open you to look stupid, or make them feel stupid.

    So, I think that if your MC is part of some subculture it's ok.
     
  20. Acglaphotis
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    Acglaphotis Contributing Member

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    Banzai beat me to the xkcd comic '-_-.
     
  21. ModestKittee
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    ModestKittee Member

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    What about fun southern words? =)

    I know we say a bunch of things down here that in the past, certainly were not accepted as "proper."

    Ain't that so?
     
  22. chad.sims2
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    chad.sims2 Contributing Member

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    Ain't is in the dictionary now. :D
     
  23. SonnehLee
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    SonnehLee Contributing Member Contributor

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    M.T. Anderson did this well in his book "Feed." It was set a couple hundred years into the future, and written in first person, so he invented many words or changed the usage of some words (ex. "unit" was used like the word "dude") to fit the story and the times. They were used throughout the story, and though some were hard to pick the meanings out, it really added to the overall feel of the story.
     
  24. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Going to copy and paste my response, because I just saw this thread.

    Lucy, in the end I suppose it is up to the publisher. They will either have the word changed or leave it. I think though made up words can serve a good purpose.

    He slothed into bed. (This paints a vivid picture in my mind.)

    He slowly crawled into bed. (Paints a similar picture, but I had to use an adverb.)

    He crawled into bed. (Paints a different picture.)

    He inched into bed. (Probably comes the closest to the movie I get from he slothed into bed.)

    Of course you could say, like a sloth he crawled into bed, but it doesn't have the same punch.

    If you only used slothed once in the whole novel, who knows, maybe the publisher will like it. Or they might change it. I don't think we should be afraid to try invented words.

    As some people already mentioned, other authors have done it. I was trying to remember some that King used, but none come to mind right now.
     
  25. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    Actually, now that I think about it, Anthony Burgess made up no end of words in A Clockwork Orange, which although it made it incredibly hard to read, did serve a valid purpose, and in the end probably did further the novel. So I suppose it depends on the exact circumstances.
     

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