Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I invented a word using medical terminology, Latin and maybe a bit of Greek. (I'm not honestly sure of the etymology of all the morphemes.) Considering that this word is primarily not of English origin, what language is it? Can I call it an English word?

Taking it a step further, what about medical terminology? Can it be called English when it really is no more than a compilation of Latin morphemes?

share|improve this question
22  
Obligatory Calvin & Hobbes –  mmyers Aug 26 '10 at 2:04
1  
jbese. That's what it should be called. –  moioci Aug 26 '10 at 2:34
3  
I don't know what it should be called, but you should call yourself a lexiconnoisseur. :) –  kitukwfyer Aug 26 '10 at 3:02
    
I once created a word by two Greek words, using English letters that would give to the new word a sound similar to the original words (at least for how I could perceive it); I obtained xenophaw. Until it's only me to use it, I think I cannot call it an English word. –  kiamlaluno Aug 26 '10 at 20:21
    
I googled jbese and it asked me, "Did you mean Jack Black Electric Shave Enhancer?" –  ikartik90 Feb 14 '11 at 12:29
add comment

2 Answers

up vote 27 down vote accepted

Language is a consensus between the speaker and listener. Lots of English words (arguably most of them, but let's not get too technical) originate from other languages. Words like "orange" or "beef" or "feng shui". Because the speaker and listener are speaking the same language, and the words are understood, the words can be considered part of that language.

share|improve this answer
1  
+1 With all due respect to nohat, I think this should be the correct answer. –  e.James Oct 2 '10 at 16:43
2  
I always loved Borges' paraphrase: 'Words are symbols of shared memories.'; I find it beautiful and very precise. Expanded: if a sizable group of English speakers, who speak no other language, share the word as a symbol for the same experience, you can call it an English word. Even if it is you who created the initial reference for that experience and establish the symbol: "Lysander: Then by your side no bed-room me deny." A Midsummer Night's Dream. –  Unreason Nov 22 '11 at 13:03
add comment

If you use the word when speaking English, then it is an English word.

share|improve this answer
2  
+1. Best answer ever. –  RegDwigнt Aug 26 '10 at 1:14
6  
“’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves / Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;” –  nohat Aug 26 '10 at 2:36
4  
Well, if you are code-switching, then sometimes you are speaking one language, and sometimes another; if you speak a word that is common to both languages, then it is ambiguous to everyone involved what language you are speaking. If I say "Pedro" to get the attention of a Spanish-speaking friend, what language am I speaking? But this question makes sense only to the extent it is useful. Deciding the language of a newly-coined word spoken in isolation would be arbitrary — even the lines between dialect, register, slang, language, and so on, are often arbitrarily or politically defined. –  Kosmonaut Aug 26 '10 at 14:27
2  
@itrekkie: And which rules would those be? English has many adopted (and created) words. –  Dennis Williamson Aug 26 '10 at 23:17
6  
I would argue that the word must be used successfully (i.e. the intended meaning was conveyed to your listener) in English conversation before it can be considered an English word. –  e.James Oct 2 '10 at 16:41
show 7 more comments

protected by RegDwigнt Dec 16 '12 at 0:23

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.