What examples exist of intentional word formation?
May 10, 2021 10:47 PM   Subscribe

Has anyone tried to generate words intentionally, and written about it? E.g., someone determines that a word *should* be created for society's benefit, aims to create it, and succeeds in getting a community to use the word.

RELATED: What are the best examples of a group of people using a new word in a certain way and then it catches on?

LESS INTERESTING: jargon, Proper Nouns.

MORE INTERESTING: conversational words used in everyday life, romance, work.
posted by shrimpetouffee to Society & Culture (36 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
posted by doctord at 11:23 PM on May 10, 2021 [17 favorites]

Not sure if you're interested in languages other than English or if this example is what you're looking for, but I think that French might have done this by inventing words like 'pourriel' to replace anglicisms like 'spam'.
posted by iamsuper at 12:03 AM on May 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

posted by rhizome at 12:05 AM on May 11, 2021

posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 1:06 AM on May 11, 2021 [3 favorites]

posted by TheKevinFlynnEffect at 2:32 AM on May 11, 2021

Best answer: Orbisculate?
posted by bCat at 2:51 AM on May 11, 2021 [5 favorites]

Shakespeare is the classic example. Other writers have done it as well.
posted by Candleman at 3:02 AM on May 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Snippa! A (feminist) Swedish word for vagina that's as friendly as "willy" for penis.
posted by Zumbador at 3:28 AM on May 11, 2021 [6 favorites]

posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 4:02 AM on May 11, 2021 [10 favorites]

posted by Mrs. Rattery at 4:02 AM on May 11, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: someone determines that a word *should* be created for society's benefit, aims to create it, and succeeds in getting a community to use the word

According to my late mother, who taught French for a living, this is essentially the entire mission of the Académie Française.
posted by flabdablet at 4:13 AM on May 11, 2021 [7 favorites]


“[Gaby Rasson, 23, a software developer in Los Angeles] said she started using the word back in 2013 while attending Beverly Hills High School. She wanted a way to describe people who were slightly off trend. But she couldn’t quite come up with the right term, so she created her own.”
posted by kittydelsol at 4:18 AM on May 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

Advertising/ marketing does this all the time. Sometimes things stick and sometimes they don’t, but if you say something often and loudly enough, it gets a lot more traction.
posted by Mchelly at 4:22 AM on May 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

"Neologism" is the search term to use when looking for this type of word.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 4:23 AM on May 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

While serving as a war correspondent during the Boer War, Winston Churchill's journalism coined and codified the modern term "sniper" as we understand it-- a military sharpshooter. The word was previously used by British Officers in India to describe more conventional civilian hunting (of "snipes" a type of bird).
posted by seasparrow at 5:49 AM on May 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

Um, I have a whole file full of concepts that need to have a word to encapsulate them. I haven't added to it in a while, but I still encounter stories that seem to hinge on people not being able to think or speak easily about some concept. If this is something you're into, please MeMail me.

The best example I can think of now is "emotional labor" -- this is the kind of word creation you seem to mean. However, there are different concepts aggregated under that one phrase, and "emotional" doesn't seem to be the right adjective for some of them.
posted by amtho at 6:01 AM on May 11, 2021

Frankenfood, coined by Paul Lewis.
posted by pangolin party at 6:06 AM on May 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

A famous example of word coinage with explanations is the poem and discussion of Jabberwocky in Through the Looking Glass.
’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“That’s enough to begin with,” Humpty Dumpty interrupted: “there are plenty of hard words there. ‘Brillig’ means four o’clock in the afternoon—the time when you begin broiling things for dinner.”

“That’ll do very well,” said Alice: “and ‘slithy’?”

“Well, ‘slithy’ means ‘lithe and slimy.’ ‘Lithe’ is the same as ‘active.’ You see it’s like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word.”

“I see it now,” Alice remarked thoughtfully: “and what are ‘toves’?”

“Well, ‘toves’ are something like badgers—they’re something like lizards—and they’re something like corkscrews.”

“They must be very curious looking creatures.”

“They are that,” said Humpty Dumpty: “also they make their nests under sun-dials—also they live on cheese.”

“And what’s the ‘gyre’ and to ‘gimble’?”

“To ‘gyre’ is to go round and round like a gyroscope. To ‘gimble’ is to make holes like a gimlet.”

“And ‘the wabe’ is the grass-plot round a sun-dial, I suppose?” said Alice, surprised at her own ingenuity.

“Of course it is. It’s called ‘wabe,’ you know, because it goes a long way before it, and a long way behind it—”

“And a long way beyond it on each side,” Alice added.
For the most part this wasn't motivated by a practical need for the words, but at least one word coined in the poem -- chortle -- has entered the general English lexicon.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 6:12 AM on May 11, 2021 [3 favorites]

When I was in college in the 1980's some friends of friends tried to coin the word "jyxquiz", defined as "the highest possible scoring 7-letter word in the game Scrabble." I was told at the time that they managed to get it used in print seven times, which was the bar set for inclusion by certain well-known English dictionaries. There the story ended, though, and the internet has no record of their efforts so I guess ultimately they failed.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 6:17 AM on May 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

W.S. Gilbert perhaps?
posted by Melismata at 6:41 AM on May 11, 2021

The children’s book Frindle is about this very topic.
posted by saucysault at 7:07 AM on May 11, 2021 [4 favorites]

Eli Sheff discusses the intentional creation of the words polyfidelity and polyamory.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 7:07 AM on May 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

"Scofflaw was the winning entry of a nationwide competition to create a new word for 'the lawless drinker' "during Prohibition (U.S. banning of alcohol). The word caught on; Prohibition, not so much.
posted by Jasper Fnorde at 8:22 AM on May 11, 2021 [6 favorites]

Meaning of Liff [MeFiPrev] was a whole book devoted to this with lists of neogeoglogisms [you first saw that here!] and sequels Deeper Meaning of Liff and Afterliff. Dunno whether any of these words stuck. Conflict of interest declaration = Brother.
posted by BobTheScientist at 8:28 AM on May 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

And in the 1980s we had "Sniglets", which were more on the order of "words that should be" instead of actual neologisms.
posted by briank at 9:57 AM on May 11, 2021

Check out the story of orbisculate.
posted by gudrun at 9:59 AM on May 11, 2021

In the vein of Sniglets, see The Dag's Dictionary and The Daily Candy Lexicon.

Of course it doesn't always work.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:03 AM on May 11, 2021

During World War 2 the British military created Commando to describe the special unit assembled and trained for the St. Nazaire Raid.
posted by Homer42 at 10:30 AM on May 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

Dunno whether any of these words stuck.

At least one did: Ballycumber was chosen as the name for BookCrossing's mascot.

Personally I've occasionally used Aasleagh and Pant-y-Wacco, words that need explained that they're place names instead of having to detail the concept they're linked to.
posted by Stoneshop at 11:15 AM on May 11, 2021

Best answer: Ms. , in place of Miss or Mrs.
posted by SLC Mom at 11:52 AM on May 11, 2021 [5 favorites]

Marten Toonder, a Dutch comic strip writer, has introduced a couple of words into the Dutch language that have reached beyond those stories: "breinbaas" (brain-boss), "denkraam" (thinking cadre, often used in "een groot denkraam", a large/unconstrained thinking cadre) and "zielknijper" (literally: soul squeezer, i.o.w. a shrink). Nearly Orwellian is the word "minkukel", as "kukel" is used in a particular story as a measure of intellect, and "minkukel" for when it's found to be low and insufficient.

Several characters in those stories have their own particular vocabulary, which can contain a good number of neologisms though few of them make sufficient sense outside the specific situation within that story to stand on their own.
posted by Stoneshop at 12:20 PM on May 11, 2021

Best answer: Genocide
posted by thack3r at 5:25 PM on May 11, 2021

[Most of the links below should be assumed to be textually NSFW.]

The word "pegging" refers to a specific, legitimate (by which I mean not one of the ones made up to sounds as weird and gross as possible, but rather something that many people engage in and discuss) sex act that didn't have a name until the alt-weekly column Savage Love held a contest in 2001 to name it, and "pegging" won. It was quickly adopted and you can find references to it on sex education and adult entertainment websites, as well as dating apps.

NB that I'm not entirely clear whether it was a term in minority use and the contest just made it popular and entered it into common usage. But my particular part of the community definitely did not have a word for it prior to the contest.
posted by rhiannonstone at 6:36 PM on May 11, 2021

I can't find the original post, but "foonsockled" was coined by a mefite meaning to have stepped in water and gotten your sock wet. I never knew I needed this word but it's been in regular rotation in my household for years now.
posted by funkiwan at 10:28 PM on May 11, 2021 [2 favorites]

And here's the original foonsockled comment, found after the edit window closed. In a very similar ask as this one.
posted by funkiwan at 10:41 PM on May 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

I've posted a new question that asks for a particular subset of words like this, and includes four examples in the question (one of which probably doesn't meet the "not jargon" bar).
posted by aws17576 at 2:46 PM on May 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

« Older Tips for novice in a hot housing market   |   Cannnot bundle app on my Mac Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.