01 July 2009

New Words

There is a blog at The Guardian, a British newspaper, that talks about a new book, Brave New Words: The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction.

The blog got me thinking. Language is a utility. It's a tool that allows us to communicate with one another effectively so that the thoughts we hold in our heads are able to be communicated with other people. It's one of the only ways in which we can effectively share what's inside us with all those outside us. Music and the visual arts work as well, but those take time to craft and create; the tools of language, words, have already been crafted for us, by us, to allow quick, easy and effective communication.

But if we lack the word for something, whether it is an object, and idea, an emotion or something else, we are left like the painter, needing to create from scratch the internal impression of the thing. Where there are no words, language begins to fail.

Some say you can tell how great an author is by how much they add to the English lexicon. John Milton, author of Paradise Lost, is credited with about 630 new English words, and William Shakespeare is given credit for over 1,700 new words. Some of the words Shakespeare is given the credit for include 'bloodstained,' 'eyeball,' 'farmhouse,' 'lackluster,' 'moonbeam,' and 'perplex.' He's also given credit for crafting phrases that have since become central to our language, phrases such as 'brave new world' (see above book title for appropriateness), 'all's well that ends well,' and 'the game is afoot' (despite what you might think about Sherlock Holmes' involvement with that one).

In some ways, it takes poetry to create new words. Good poetry, like that of Milton and Shakespeare, take new looks at old things, and in so doing often find it necessary to create a new word to describe this old thing.

The best science fiction does the same. George Orwell's 1984 take new looks at old ideas like imperialism, government control and the media. H.G. Wells' The Time Machine sees humanity and civilization in a new dichotomy.

Science fiction also allows for new ideas to be looked at in old ways. Isaac Asimov's I, Robot created a morality for robots which has guided them since in works across all media.

In all of these, new language was necessary to create the story, to describe things in such a way that we, the readers, can ask questions of ourselves. The three works listed above brought us 'time machine,' time travel,' and 'newspeak.' 'Robot' was brought in by a Czech play, translated from the word 'robota' meaning 'forced labor,' but Asimov did so much to further the word it might as well be credited to him.

With the constant evolution of language transforming and growing as our world transforms and grows, we are constantly in need of new words to describe our environment and experiences. Are there any new words you would want to input into the language to describe necessary inventions of the future, or just modern-day experiences that have gone unnamed, or ineffectively borrowed a name from something else? What new words would you coin?


  1. CatBar said...
    (not really 'anonymous - just can never get the ID thingy to ever work for me!)

    'Humanic' - this is one of the words I coined as a contrast to 'Robotic' when writing about Asimov's humaniform robots. (It's not in my Concise Oxford dictionary anyway). Someone said it 'looked good' but was 'wrong'. Took this to mean that 'humanic' just did not exist as a word. (Therefore this is 'wrong'?). I was disappointed as I'm a great one for coining.

  2. How would you go about using the word? What situations would it be necessary?

    I say, if there is a use for the word, and there isn't one already in play (or the one in use doesn't do it's job very well), it's a good word.