It is only by interacting with others that we get to see how our personal language differs from others. Unfortunately, sometimes, we find out very late in life how our sense of language differs from the general consensus.

One of my favourite G-rated expletives is apparently made-up. “Gadzikes”. I’m not sure how I acquired it, but it was definitely kicking around in my head by the time I was eight. Apparently, the source is “Gadzooks”, an equally rare expletive, but at least this one is historically attested. What probably happened, is that I encountered gadzooks in one of the many british fantasy novels I was reading at the time, and combined it with a more readily-accessible expletive (ie, yikes), forming my glorious Gadzikes!. But, since I’m using it as an expletive, people readily understand the intent behind the utterance. What perhaps is not so immediately obvious is that the etymology of gadzooks is religious in theme, as is geez. In short, gadzooks is formed from “God’s Hooks” in reference to the nails of the crucifix, and geez is a truncation of “Jesus”. Sacré bleu!

My second made-up word, however, was one that I tried to use in an essay, but spell-check just wouldn’t comply with me. Believing MS Word to merely be deficient, as it wouldn’t even accept common surnames at the time, I looked further into proper dictionaries. Still no hits though. Was I the only one who felt the ‘need’ to have a verb in place of periphrasis? My verb? extraordine, which I defined as “to be taken with awe; to find extraordinary”. It was supposed to allow a rephrasing of “he found the situation extraordinary” to “he was extraordined by the situation”. From my not-so-scientific survey of friends, my literary friends like it, but I suspect I’ll have to use it in a best-selling novel before it gains wide currency.

The last one is tersity, which I thought was the proper noun form for terse, instead of terseness. This one, I still struggle with, because of my attitude towards the English noun-forming -ness. It’s such a regular ending, that it feels like a cheap cheat. Too often, I catch random strangers on the subway/bus abusing the -ness. “stupidness,” “notoriousness,” etc.. The -sity somehow feels more elite and erudite (and apparently a historical attitude). The –ness comes from the ‘base’ Germanic tongues, whereas the –sity comes from the posher Latinate languages. So even though tersity will likely never make it into the dictionaries, it’s a word that I’ve firmly embedded in my vernacular, and will be very hard to surplant with terseness. Ew.

On the other hand, there’ve been words that I thought other people made up that apparently are more established. Ding was one such word. I would hear my friend talking about being dinged for forgetting to put something into an essay, and all I kept thinking was “That’s not a real word! Stop saying DING! It’s a sound, not a verb!” The world disagreed. Because of the profusion of game shows in the 70’s, English-speaking audiences have come to associate the sound of a ding with that of losing a point — of penalization. Hence, to ding is to deduct points from; to penalize.

Finally, it should be noted that contrary to public opinion, “The Dictionary” is not the final authority on the status of a word. Given the lexicographical process, any dictionary is necessarily always compiled ex post facto, which is to say that it will always be behind the times. But just because there are legitimate expressions in use that have yet to be documented by the OED, doesn’t mean that the Humpty Dumpty principle freely applies:

  “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

It is true, however, that one’s fame/authority makes the public more willing to adopt one’s made-up words. Muggle is a famous recent example. Conversely, the more speakers are willing to adopt a new word, the faster it gains ‘proper’ currency. Having said that though, if everybody were to suddenly start making up words in the name of “it means what I want it to mean — YOU figure it out!”, we would quickly find ourselves in another Tower of Babel situation.

So, what words have you, my dear readers, made up that you thought were legitimate? Or words that you’ve coined for a specific occasion?

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