Jabberwocky: Do writers still invent words?

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Image: Copyright Lynn Love 2015

 

The above rather dodgy image is mine.

I don’t mean I bought it somewhere, downloaded it or purloined it in some nefarious activity. No, it’s mine as in, I drew it. I ‘aged’ the paper with tea, creased it to look as though it had been locked in an ancient chest for centuries, shaped the slightly broken-necked creature.

It comes from a time, twenty plus years ago when I still drew – if not brilliantly, and in a rather 6th form, indie-pretentious way – before I realised there were people who could do that stuff way better than I could, so hey, why not leave them to it and I’ll get on with the reading, scribbling lark.

Now, the reason I’m sharing my ropy, New-Age doodle is because of a conversation that happened just this a.m here, at Love Towers. (No, the house isn’t really called that – only in my head.)

My son came downstairs and said he’d been looking at The Jabberwocky. For those of you unfamiliar it, it’s a poem, a saga of youth triumphing over monster in Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll.

‘It’s all made up,’ said my son.

He meant the words, not the creature, for as we all know Jabberwockys are entirely factual, if critically endangered largely because they backed themselves into an evolutionary corner by restricting their diet to Mock Turtle soup and Kendal Mint Cake, the numbers of Mock Turtles having dropped severely over recent years due to cat predation. It’s a serious and seriously neglected issue – I shall raise a petition.

Anyway, back to the poem.

Just in this opening stanza, Carroll has invented –

‘brillig’, ‘slithy’, ‘toves’, ‘wabe’, ‘mimsy’, ‘borogroves’, ‘mome raths’, ‘outgrabe’.

That’s a lot to make up, even for a nonsense poem. And a few of the words from the poem have passed into popular usage –  I love ‘burble’  and ‘galumphing’ truly is a work of genius – you can almost hear the weight in the syllables.

I started to wonder – does this really happens anymore?

Do writers take existing words and smoosh them together – such as ‘slithy’, a mixture of ‘lith’ and ‘slimy’ according to Humpty Dumpty – or is language now more static than it used to be, with new words only being added to the dictionary through common usage by the general public, rather than being sneaked in by writers?

Of course, words for new concepts were still being invented in the twentieth century – George Orwell’s 1984 gifted us Newspeak, Big Brother (as an allusion to an overtly intrusive State), Room 101 (somewhere holding your worst nightmares) – the title itself becoming shorthand for a distopian future. It’s a tribute to Orwell’s prescience that the terms still feel relevant today. 

We can all name instances of character names which are widely known – Katniss Everdeen, Dumbledore* – but in recent years have authors invented verbs or adjectives which we now use everyday? Will they ever again?

Come on, you clever lot. I’m sure you can all think of some examples I’m ignorant of. Enlighten me.

***

*Though Dumbledore was a dialect word for bumblebee, so not strictly original.

 

Wednesday Word Tangle

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Ever been stumped for the right word?

I don’t mean those days when your brain’s as thick as cold porridge, when you need three espressos and a Red Bull chaser just to get a few jaded synapses to sparkle into life. When you just know there’s a word out there that’s precisely right, that just fits what you want to say. It’s on the tip of your brain but every time you scrabble for it, it darts out of reach, a thought-beetle scurrying into the dark when you lift the rotting log of your memory.

No. I don’t mean that. I don’t mean that at all. Anyway, for me that’s an everyday occurrence. It’s a fact of life that keeps good company with walking into rooms and forgetting what I went in for, trying to remember that actor’s name- you know the one- he was in that thing with wotsit out of that other show and absent-mindedly putting the milk in the cupboard instead of the fridge. I have reached THAT age.

No, what I mean is those occasions when our brilliant, complex, varied language, used by literary geniuses over the centuries to describe shared emotions and experience, the wonderful, horrible feelings and thoughts that make up a human mind, that inform human existence, that describe what it is to live on this blue-green bauble rolling on the black velvet groundsheet of space-time- when all of that just isn’t enough.

You know what I mean. No matter how many billions of people have lived before, are living now, will ever live, sometimes it seems that what you feel is different- that what you’ve experienced is unique in some way. That existing wordage just isn’t enough.

What I mean is YOU JUST WANNA MAKE STUFF UP. You wanna snatch syllables from the air- ones that are nearly right, almost there- and squish them together, mash them so they fuse together like some hybrid mythical creature- a bit griffin, a bit sphinx- kind of weird and totally amazing.

And here’s where my word of the day comes in.

GINORMOUS.

Isn’t it great? It’s the kind of word that eight year-old boys love to use to describe conkers or slugs or farts.

Enormous just isn’t big enough. What about gigantic? Yeah… good, but it needs to be bigger, like all the huge things you’ve ever seen or thought of rolled into one.

GINORMOUS. 

For days when BIG just won’t hack it.

A nod to Kittykat– the originator of W4W