All Words Are Made Up

Writers who hedge their use of unfamiliar, infrequent, or informal words with “I know that’s not a real word” … are giving up one of their inalienable rights as English speakers: the right to create new words as they see fit.

From Lexicographer Erin McKean’s article for the Boston Globe.

I think most people fail to realise that the rules of a language are a product of its usage—of its evolution—rather than the other way around. For every word ever spoken or written, there was a moment in time when it was invented.

When children first get their heads around language they tend to play with it, using the rules they have learned to extend their vocabulary, inventing words like “funnest” that tend to be expressed in other ways by more experienced users of the language. Children are corrected: “‘funnest’ is not a real word, you should say ‘most fun'”. And rightfully so; but we should also teach children—and one another—that there are contexts in which it is perfectly acceptable to invent or misuse language.


Written by multinormal

September 11, 2008 at 11:41 am

Posted in Words

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