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Making up words

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Gryphos, Dec 16, 2014.

  1. Gryphos

    Gryphos Auror

    On occasion I've found in my writing that I use a word that I think exists, but which the squiggly red line tells me doesn't. Then I go ahead and look it up, and find that it does indeed not exist. Sometimes I change it to a real word, but on other times I look at it and go "that really should be a word, and it does fit here." So sometimes I end up keeping the word. The priest has an altarful of books and the character walks over after his beckonment.

    Can I get away with things like this? Do any of you end up inadvertently inventing new words?
  2. Trick

    Trick Auror

    It has definitely happened to me but I don't think I've ever actually ended up keeping any. There's almost always a real word that works just fine. Altarful of books doesn't quite make sense in the context you provided - It implies something is 'full of altars' or 'like an altar' in the same way that wonderful means 'full of wonder.' Hyphens are useful for this: Altar-full.

    Beckonment should be beckoning. Like I said, I have definitely believed a word existed when it did not and used it until learning otherwise. I suppose if you can slip it past most people it might be fine but if I noticed it as a reader, I would not like it.
  3. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    It'd be fine to make up words for things unique to your fantasy world, but I think it'd be a mistake to invent real-world terms or word combinations.

    In doing so, you'd run a strong risk of jarring the reader or being unclear, probably both. Clarity in writing is king. Immersion in storytelling is essential. Don't do anything with the potential to damage either.
  4. Incanus

    Incanus Auror

    I've seen that the squiqqly red line doesn't know everything. About once every page or two, I use it word that it doesn't know, but is real (even if arcane or obsolete). I was rather surprised when it didn't reckognize "rulership". And on the other hand, I seem to recall that it didn't balk at my recent use of the word "cromlech". Who programmed this stuff anyway?

    Mostly, you want to avoid these kinds of out-of-the-way word constructions, but there's always a way to do something with it. For instance, there could be a character with a strange habit of making such words up on the spot while they're talking.

    I agree with Trick--the hyphen is your friend.

    You might, might, just get away with it if you establish early on that you're extremely playful with words, and you keep it up regularly. As far as I'm concerned the all-time master of coining interesting compound words was Clark Ashton Smith. Super cool, but difficult to pull off.
    BronzeOracle likes this.
  5. Gryphos

    Gryphos Auror

    Interesting. What if it's written from a first person perspective, and it is indeed common for said narrator to use unusual word combinations?

    And besides, can't language be flexible? Obviously the reader needs to understand what's written, but so long as they do, do writers really need to be confined within the bounds of the dictionary?
  6. Trick

    Trick Auror

    That might work, if it's done very well. Humor would probably help. It would be somewhat expected and as such would not break immersion.

    Yes and no. We are using a language that constantly changes and grows but if you just start throwing in words that don't exist, most of the time they will be standing in for words that do exist and serve the same purpose. That might lead readers to think that you, as the writer, are uneducated. Not always, but that could definitely happen. When I'm speaking with people who misuse words or grammar in conversation I want to correct them so badly that it hurts. I don't usually, unless they are a close enough friend or relative that they know I'm a bit compulsive about such things.

    This is totally separate from fantasy-word creations, by the way. If you introduce an animal in a fantasy or sci-fi work and call it an Antedion, I won't even blink but I will expect some description. I will, however, be disappointed if you describe it and I realize it's just an elephant. That would break immersion.
  7. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    I had the opposite thing happen to me a while back. I need to use a word for a really small child running, but drew a complete blank.
    In the end I decided the kid was bobbling it felt right and had associations to bouncing and wobbling and bobbing, so I went with it. Then, as I was checking it out to make sure it wasn't already a word that meant something else, it turned out it is a word. On top of that, not only is it word, but it also means pretty much what I wanted it to: bobbling - definition of bobbling by The Free Dictionary

    ...and for reference, here's the use of the word:
  8. Legendary Sidekick

    Legendary Sidekick The HAM'ster Moderator

    Even fake science terms and other "legitimate" made-up words can be potentially makefunable. In Avatar, my brother couldn't stand "unobtainium." That made the movie into sort of a joke at its own expense for him. Instead of just watching giant blue people hug even gianter trees, he was thinking things like, "Oh, come on! That name means you literally can't obtain the material, so how the hell do you know it's good for anything?"

    By the way, my first sentence might demonstrate another danger of making up words. My brother and I used "makefunable" as kids, so it made sense to me. But maybe some of you read my post and thought, "You're online, sidekick. That means you can access a thesaurus. That you didn't proves you're a lazy bum." And you word-maker-uppers probably thought, "Shouldn't that have been 'makefunofable?'"
    Writeking likes this.
  9. spectre

    spectre Sage

    As they said, it's about how you do it. Dr. Seus created some fun words, but such was the schtick of his writing. I also agree though that you shouldn't make up words that are meant to convey real world things, situations, or effects. To me it can be aggravating.
  10. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    I'll echo what Trick said. It might work as an aspect of character if the reader understands it as such & accepts it as a unique aspect of that character.

    As far as flexibility goes, language is extremely flexible. But, I think you'll have a hard time using non-words and not jarring, annoying, or confusing the reader.

    I want to enjoy your setting and character experiences. I don't want to work at figuring out the author's fresh, inventive take on language unless it serve a purpose and is executed well.

    The exception would be where a deviation enhances the story, as a device. That seems narrowly focused though. I can't see exceptions beyond a conveyance of character, or perhaps the narrator.
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2014
  11. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

    This. Every time something in your prose or plot or whatever makes the reader look up from the book and say "what?" you increase the chance that they'll just put the book down rather than keep reading. Obviously you want to avoid that.

    Invented words or word combinations can give you a very unique voice and can help contribute to the atmosphere of your story, but it's a very fine line between immersing the reader more fully and making them go "huh?" It's going to be a huge risk every time you try. So I guess I would only recommend it for writers who like to take risks and seriously challenge themselves.

    Personally, I don't make up words and I very rarely even make up names. I prefer to go digging around in ancient mythologies and cultures for names and terms that are obscure to most people.
  12. Incanus

    Incanus Auror

    Thought I'd revive this to report on a recent experience of mine.

    I'm writing a story in first person POV with a character who is an arrogant, scholarly scientist type. I fully anticipated the appearance of the baneful squiggly red line when my character (I swear it was him) wanted to use the word 'pulchritude'. To my surprise, it let it pass. I just think its weird that it recognizes such an unusual word and does not recognize 'rulership'.
  13. LWFlouisa

    LWFlouisa Troubadour

    Actually I used to keep mini glossaries of words I know technically don't exist, and add my own definitions. So I don't have to keep making up new words for the same thing.

    In short: I see nothing wrong with it. Sounds fun.^^
  14. AndrewMelvin

    AndrewMelvin Scribe

    If I read a non-word, other than something related to a book's particular setting, I usually think the writer has made a mistake and, just for a second, I'm pulled out of the story.

    On the other hand, occasionally it seems to work: some of the spelling in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, if I remember correctly, is deliberately (I hope) idiosyncratic, and it suits the story.

    Generally, though, I would stick to proper English - it has enough words to cover every eventuality.
  15. Writeking

    Writeking Sage

    Unobtainium. A substance mentioned in a few other movies. The first time I heard the term, I broke into laughter.After all, they never did obtain the unobtainium.
  16. Tom

    Tom Istar

    I make up tons of words, which has led Microsoft Word to declare war on my manuscripts and inundate me with thousands of squiggly red lines. It also resents me for peppering my English with scraps of German, Irish Gaelic, and Old English. Did you know that Microsoft Word says the word "wyrd" ("fate" in OE) doesn't exist?

    I like made-up words in books--as long as they're important to the setting or plot, I'm okay with them. Sometimes they help flesh out the culture the story is set in, or add depth to a character. It's also fun when an author makes up names for everyday things that don't seem to have names.
  17. Asura Levi

    Asura Levi Sage

    I've come to similar situations before. If it is something neat I'll probably use for something/place, like my beloved Damnlands. This should be word, an area that is so f****d up (sorry, couldn't find better way to express it) that makes a 'wasteland' feels like a spring garden full of flowers in comparison.

    It all depends of how the word is used. If it break my immersion, then I would just acknowledge that as bad grammar.

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