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.



Perspiration or inspiration: What kind of writer are you?


I’m a pretty ramshackle kind of person – I chose the name of my blog carefully and for a reason.

I do as little housework as possible – I aim for just the right side of biohazard, telling myself that a few germs are good for the immune system and the drifts of skin flakes, woodlice scales and whatever the hell else is hiding in the corners of the room hasn’t killed anyone yet.

If you can’t see the muck on the highest bookshelf, then it will stay there until whichever Armageddon is going to wipe us out hits, or until my other half has a week off work and wizzes round with a duster and vacuum cleaner.

Our home is scruffy. There’s a stack of Lego blocks and Nerf guns on the floor, a selection of push bikes and scooters in the dining room. We put magnetic letter slogans on the clapped out, seventies-faux-wood-burner-gas-fire. At the moment we have a quote from Wayne’s World:

And monkeys might fly out of my butt!

A particular favourite with my eleven-year-old. Last week it was Two Thirds Dead, a quote I invented, the derivation of which is so tasteless, I daren’t explain it here for fear of the tsunami of ‘Unfollows’ that would  inevitably ensue.

I keep stack of writing magazines in the corner near my side of the sofa ‘for reference’, though I also keep them on the dining room table, next to the bed and a current one in the kitchen on top of the microwave for when I’m stirring a risotto, waiting for the kettle to boil or for the washing machine to unlock and release the family’s pants and socks into the wild.

However, I do have some routines.

I work the same days every week and when I’m not working – O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! – I’m welded to the dining room table. No, not because of the coagulated baked beans and the slick of spilled squash, but so I can write.

You see, I’m disorganized and a slob, but I have a routine. I sit down every day off (when husband and son are at work and school of course) unsheathe my Sony Vaio – Dominic Silverstreak – the BT Infinity Hub is switched on and I begin to tap. (Not dancing, you understand , although weirdly, I can salsa a bit, if in a vaguely unsettling, undulating mumsy sort of way – imagine pink custard boogying and you’d have it about right.)

I scan my emails and WordPress comments first. This is supposed to be the mental equivalent of star jumps and stretches – a quick warm up for my brain – but usually extends to a good hour reading and commenting on posts – distraction, distraction – before I settle to the writing business of the day.

I’ll write a blogpost or two (as today) before moving on to writing/ drafting short stories or my novel.

You see, I’ve found I thrive with a loose writing structure. I don’t wait for Madam Inspiration to strike – she’s a fickle old cow, so I keep her manacled to the sticky dining room table, ready for me to ride whenever I need her (well, that’s an image!). What comes out on the screen is not always good – some may argue that it’s mainly nonsense and ‘some’ may be right. But I’ve found I write more because I’ve trained my brain to make the most of the alone time I have.

I confess, some of that ‘alone time’ is spent watching YouTube videos (not dancing cats or skateboarders on their way to A and E, honest) but most is actually spent, fingers dancing across the keys. Because I always figured if I aim to do this for a living – or even a fraction of a living – I’d need to be able to write whenever I have to, not just when I feel like it.

So, what kind of writer are you? Can you only face the page and pen/ laptop and keys when inspiration strikes? Or do you have a strict timetable with word counts to hit and projects to finish?

Do share.