0

Suppose I wanted to create a new word. Are there any rules for that? How can I do it?

If I create the word, how can I ensure that it has an appropriate meaning?

For example, in a word like quiz or puzzle what rules were applied to decide if this would be a good new word, and how does one apply these more generally?

14
  • Generally speaking, when you create a new word, you get to decide how it's spelled and what it means. The hard part isn't making those decisions, it's in getting other people to agree (implicitly or explicitly) that your word is useful; in other words, the hard part is getting the new word (like any new creation) to catch on. But if you do so successfully, one day the OED will be forced to record your word with your spelling and your definition :) (Of course, it's equally possible that once you release your newborn word into the wild, other people will change it.)
    – Dan Bron
    Sep 18, 2014 at 11:36
  • 6
    You make it sounds as if there is some administrative process going on... there is not! If you have a concept that you want to name, name it. If enough people like the name, and use it, your word gets into a dictionary, and that's it: you have created a new word. You do not usually get a diploma or anything for it :)
    – oerkelens
    Sep 18, 2014 at 11:37
  • Also, I'm personally curious to see what your new word is :)
    – Dan Bron
    Sep 18, 2014 at 11:37
  • 5
    This question appears to be off-topic because it is not about the English language but how to persuade several teams of editors who compile dictionaries to accept a coined word.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 18, 2014 at 12:13
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA Of course, I understand your opinion is your own, and you are certainly entitled to it. No question about that. That said, I still believe the question is legitimate; I think the issue is merely the way the OP framed the question (and as JoeBlow did, in a separate question, just before this one, which was also closed). I'm considering writing up my own question along these lines, worded in a way which I think will pass muster with the community.
    – Dan Bron
    Sep 18, 2014 at 13:38

4 Answers 4

4

If you want to coin a word, you just do it. For instance, I've just coined the word litgenitor, and I'm defining it as someone who wants to coin a new word. I intended it for you, but it looks like it's me as well. I stated with lit as in literal, adding gen as in genesis, and tor as in actor.

But I fully expect the word to go pffft in no time flat. You will forget the word in minutes; I've already forgotten it. In order to make it into the dictionaries, you have to get a lot of people using it. If a word is useful and strikes the public's fancy, and it gets a lot of publicity to kick-start usage, well, that's how Stephen Colbert got "truthiness" established.

You know how idiots will pass you, and then slow down 10-20 MPH slower than you'd been driving? I've been trying to get the word frontgator (like a tailgator but.. oh, I see, you get it) established for thirty years, without success. You got a better term for those bleepity bleeps? I don't care what the word is, but I want a term to use that I can use in mixed company. Please invent one for me,

3
  • If you want your (very useful and quite awesome, I admit) word to catch on, you should probably spell it frontgater to be parallel with tailgater. The way you spell it now, it looks more parallel with alligator, which is just misleading. :-) Sep 18, 2014 at 17:11
  • I would think that a frontgator was someone who was pretending to be Cajun. Sep 18, 2014 at 17:46
  • Good point, Janus. I suspect, a word about bad drivers would spread orally, rather than in print, and your spelling would quickly be more common. A bigger problem may be that most people are annoyed too little, making jerk adequate, or else are annoy too much, in which case other four-letter words would come in handy.
    – user91626
    Sep 19, 2014 at 14:51
2

Is there any rules and regulations for naming a new word?

There are no rules about how to create a new word, just as there are no rules about how to create a new idea. That's how human imagination works!

Whether your new word will be successful or not outside of your own usage, of course, is a different story. Just like any other new invention or idea, people will probably only use the word if:

  • it serves a useful purpose in speech or writing by being evocative, functional, or otherwise handy (troglodyte, ecstasy); or
  • it expresses a complex concept or idea succinctly (schadenfreude, e-mail); or
  • it tickles their fancy (supercalifragilisticexpialidocious); or
  • otherwise serves some function better than other words (you could say deceived or cheated, but hornswoggled is so much more fun and has more character).

Generally, your word is more likely to be successful if people can easily discern its meaning. If you just invent a bunch of words and start using them with reckless abandon, it'll be hard to understand what you're saying, and that means your words will be less likely to be adopted by others.

One of the ways a word can be easy to understand is if it's structurally similar to other words (hangry is a blend of hungry and angry) or if its context gives strong clues ("he chortled in his joy"). A word can also be popular because the idea behind it is popular (selfie, truthiness). (Whether the word is popular because the idea is popular, or vice versa, is a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem. Best to leave that one to linguists and philosophers.)

In short, words aren't much different than other ideas -- they're just easier to spread since it takes almost no effort to write down or say a word. Don't be afraid to invent whatever the heck you want!

1

To add to what others have said here (the messages being (a) there is no English Academy deciding what words are legitimate and (b) anyone can make up any word anytime), it might help to realize that English-language dictionaries are typically (almost universally, I think) based on actual usage.

IOW, if a word is in the dictionary then it is used or recognized by a significant number of people, or at least that was the case at some time in the past.

So while anyone can coin any word anytime, for a word to appear in a dictionary it generally must become somewhat widely used. And as words become more or less used, dictionaries generally reflect such changes. A large dictionary might continue to list a word that is no longer used much, but a smaller one might drop it. And a frequently updated dictionary might list a recently created word, but a dictionary that is updated less frequently might not list it.

1
  • 1
    And if only 5 people use a new candidate, they probably shouldn't consider it an [English] word. Jan 30, 2023 at 16:06
0

As has been said, there is no Institute of Words and Meanings (maybe there should be!). A word or phrase that is invented is said to be "coined", and if it gains popularity, people will often reference the coining of the word or phrase along with it's coiner, the person who invented it. Frequently the coining is galvanized in history through its use in a published work, a paper, a speech; where it's first use can be determined. For better or worse, words that become part of popular discourse will get added to new editions of dictionaries. I once tried to prove to someone that the word "worser" (meaning more bad) did not exist, that there is no need to add an '-er' to the word "worse", or "worst" to make it a comparative. Lo and behold, someone present produced a dictionary that had the word listed, which explained it was "vernacular". Maddening.

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