In writing, mainly seen in novel writing, how should we put a word that doesn't exist? for example, "We're screwed beyond levels of screwedness." Please don't tell me that's too unprofessional and I need to change the sentence with a substitute word that exists. I've seen made up words in some novels, but I can't remember how they're written if they're italic or have a hyphen to separate the part that makes the word nonexistent (screwed-ness).

  • The word non-word exists for DIY inventions that are not words. // Normally, non-words and dodgy usages are put in scare-quotes, but it would look silly in your case. If you're going to be loose with the lexicon, why worry about correct punctuation? Jul 8, 2018 at 22:22
  • In what way does “screwedness” not exist? It follows the rules of English phonology and morphology, and its meaning is clear. It may not be in your dictionary but the same is true of many words. Fiction, and especially science fiction and fantasy, often uses words that are rare or created by the author. Often with no comment or explanation. I dont think your coining is unusual enough to need any special punctuation.
    – user184130
    Jul 8, 2018 at 22:57

1 Answer 1


This is a question of style, not grammar. Grammar doesn't require you do anything to demarcate the word. Look at all the words Lewis Carroll invented, for example:

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe; all mimsy were the borogoves, and the mome raths outgrabe.

You'll note Carroll didn't do anything special to introduce his nonce words but just let them stand in standard text like they were any other normal word.

That said, you could italicize it, like you said. That's something people do sometimes. You might also use scare quotes, because that's one of the things they are for – to signal you're using what is in quotes "in a non-standard, ironic, or otherwise special sense."

  • 2
    And let’s not forget what all the Whos down in Whoville like to do on Christmas morning: They blow their floofloovers. They bang their tartookas. They blow their whohoopers, they bang their gardookas!
    – J.R.
    Jul 9, 2018 at 1:24

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