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Old 05-19-2012, 07:31 AM   #1
HarryT
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New words

I'm sure that most of us here have read "Bleak House" by Charles Dickens - one of the greats of English literature. When you read it, you may perhaps even have noticed this sentence, describing Lady Dedlock, which occurs near the start of Chapter 12:

Quote:
...my Lady, in the desolation of Boredom and the clutch of Giant Despair, almost hated her own maid for being in spirits.
But what you may not have realised, when you read this, is that you were looking at the first ever usage in the English language of the word "Boredom". Until this sentence was written, the word did not exist. Dickens needed the word, and invented it, and that's one of the many reasons that he's considered a great writer; he invented hundred of words which are today regarded as an everyday part of the language. Among his other inventions are "rampage", "red tape", and "around the clock". The OED lists 258 words which were first used by Dickens.

My question to you as writers, is this: would you have the courage to invent a new word if there was no existing word to describe the concept that you were looking for?
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Old 05-19-2012, 08:53 AM   #2
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Originally Posted by HarryT View Post
My question to you as writers, is this: would you have the courage to invent a new word if there was no existing word to describe the concept that you were looking for?
I have, to describe a facial expression. Getting the spelling right was harder than actually creating the word, because qu- seems to expect that a vowel follows it, and the only vowel that was close was w.

The problem isn't so much the need for new words, as whether or not a writer is capable of risking criticism for creating a word instead of explaining the concept in a more awkward but technically correct way. Innovation is more likely to be seen as incorrectness.
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Old 05-19-2012, 09:15 AM   #3
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Asimov is noted as the first to use the word "robotics", but it is a fairly intuitive extension to "robot", apparently coined by Karel Čapek and that was understandable as the base of words such as robota and robotnik (or so I read on dictionary.com).

Such word creation is fairly common in science fiction and fantasy, but these aren't quite the same thing, are they? They're mostly names for new things or new or developing concepts. Boredom was hardly a new concept. But I have to ask: how did readers know what Dickens meant? What was the derivation that allowed them to understand this first usage? (I can understand how "around the clock" and "red tape" may be understandable, given context and familiarity with the period, but boredom?)

I had need for a good word for an existing concept in my current writing, but I went to another language to get it (Sanskrit). So I guess that means no, I didn't have what it takes to invent a new word, I borrowed one (actually several as it turned out) from elsewhere.
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Old 05-19-2012, 09:18 AM   #4
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Such word creation is fairly common in science fiction and fantasy, but these aren't quite the same thing, are they? They're mostly names for new things or new or developing concepts. Boredom was hardly a new concept. But I have to ask: how did readers know what Dickens meant? What was the derivation that allowed them to understand this first usage? (I can understand how "around the clock" and "red tape" may be understandable, given context and familiarity with the period, but boredom?)
The verb "to bore" existed previously, and the adjective "bored". It was the noun "boredom", which I guess means "the state of being bored", which Dickens coined.
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Old 05-19-2012, 09:27 AM   #5
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I would have no problem inventing of "adapting" a word for a science fiction of fantastical story, but for, say, as straight thriller, I doubt I'd have the courage. It would most likely pull the reader out of the action, muttering WTF???
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Old 05-19-2012, 06:36 PM   #6
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I'm always fascinated (and often amused) when new words are added to the dictionary.

http://nws.merriam-webster.com/opend...lay_recent.php

http://www.oed.com/public/wordslist0312

However, I haven't invented any new words since I was about 9 years old. I need to work on that!
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Old 05-19-2012, 07:04 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HarryT View Post
I'm sure that most of us here have read "Bleak House" by Charles Dickens - one of the greats of English literature. When you read it, you may perhaps even have noticed this sentence, describing Lady Dedlock, which occurs near the start of Chapter 12:



But what you may not have realised, when you read this, is that you were looking at the first ever usage in the English language of the word "Boredom". Until this sentence was written, the word did not exist. Dickens needed the word, and invented it, and that's one of the many reasons that he's considered a great writer; he invented hundred of words which are today regarded as an everyday part of the language. Among his other inventions are "rampage", "red tape", and "around the clock". The OED lists 258 words which were first used by Dickens.

My question to you as writers, is this: would you have the courage to invent a new word if there was no existing word to describe the concept that you were looking for?
He also borrowed from earlier writers I think. Giant Despair was mentioned in Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress I believe. And Bunyan took his inspiration from the Bible. It's interesting how different books have influenced a given writer over the centuries. I believe both Shakespeare and the Apostle Paul also had a tendency to create new words when needed to get their points across as well.
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Old 05-20-2012, 04:07 AM   #8
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I'd be very reluctant to invent a new word. As an Indie Author, I know I'd be dinged for it and probably quite impolitely. Inventing new words is the province of officially published authors only, and it is further reserved only for those so talented as my beloved Charles Dickens.
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Old 05-20-2012, 08:08 AM   #9
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Old 05-21-2012, 06:43 AM   #10
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I've "invented" a word or two, but as mentioned already... they were words for new things in a new world. (I write sci fi / fantasy).

To make up a new word that is a modification of current words, sure I could see that. To make up a new word to explain a current day thing/feeling/etc. I think is a completely different concept. Without a foot note, or extensive context clues, how would the reader know what you are saying? They can not look the word up in the dictionary. Seems like you would end up with a failure to communicate.

And if you have extensive context clues anyways... did you really need the new word?
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Old 05-21-2012, 12:53 PM   #11
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So far, I don't think I've ever been in a position to need to invent a new word; I was always able to say what I wanted to say with established words. So it's hard to say whether I would invent a word. If I thought it was necessary to the story, I'd probably do it (and duck when it came back at me).
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Old 05-21-2012, 05:03 PM   #12
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I invent all words all the time, my problem is trying to remember what they mean. It's great that these kinds of questions and ideas are asked by so many intelligent people. It's such a relief from the dumbed down stuff that I hear from the talking heads on the boober, but I have to admit that sometimes I get really forumized.
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Old 05-21-2012, 05:41 PM   #13
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Many of my favorite SF authors either invent words or take over the contemporary meaning to describe some future common thing, event, or action. It doesn't rub me the wrong way in SF as much as it would in straight literature (if "boredom" was invented today) or other genres.
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Old 05-21-2012, 11:15 PM   #14
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Invented words are used all the time in science fiction and fantasy.

For example: http://io9.com/5850293/10-words-you-...cience-fiction
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Old 05-22-2012, 05:15 AM   #15
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The verb "to bore" existed previously, and the adjective "bored". It was the noun "boredom", which I guess means "the state of being bored", which Dickens coined.
I was thinking about this some more and reading some of the context around the introduction of the word in Bleak House. The word "bored" appears fairly closely either side, but I was hoping for some other -dom word that might have given the reader a hint as to the intention.

From dictionary.com I find four possible meanings given by the -dom suffix:
1. state or condition: freedom ; martyrdom
2. rank or office: earldom
3. domain: kingdom ; Christendom
4. a collection of persons: officialdom

Which one did Dickens actually mean? "In the desolation of Boredom", with - it appears - the Dickens' provided capitalisation, and the word context, we might think that he actually meant domain rather than state. Later he uses the word again in "whose chronic malady of boredom", and also "the prevalent complaint of boredom", and a few more in which domain does not seem to apply. The only other applicable -dom words I find in there are thraldom and freedom, both of which would be state extensions.

I am left wondering if he actually invented two words: the proper noun, Boredom, for the land of the bored, and the other noun, boredom, for the state of being bored.
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