How do I invent a word?

How does a word become an “official” part of the English language - and is there such a thing as an “official” word? With Internet communications, all of these new words have popped up, like email and spam, which never existed before. At some point, “spam” was slang, but now it is used more and more commonly to refer to mass junk email. Some of my friends think that it’s just common usage - if you use a word enough it becomes a part of the English language. But that would lead to words’ meanings changing over time, like if enough people use “ignorant” to mean rude, sooner or later ignorant will stop meaning what it means and start meaning “rude”. Some of my friends think that a group of lexicographers get together every so often - like the people who write Oxford or Miriam Webster’s English Dictionary, and decide whether or not to make a word official. But who asked them? Does anyone know how this works? Because I’ve got a few words I think are really catchy.

Your problem won’t “inventing” the word - you’ve already done that. Your problem will be marketing it. The various dictionary folks are all in the business of recording/describing words that are (or were) fairly commonly used. (They’re followers, not leaders).

So get out there (here?) and advertise!

tell me your word, and i will start using and advertising it for ya :wink:

First you must neoposit the word in a formal scholarly paper. Next, get the paper published in an omnigrokked scientific publication. Simulsubmit a copy of the paper to the American Compendium of Dictionarial Studies for their interspection. This process of language augmentation, known as parthenolocution, is the accepted method in academic circles.


More seriously, anyone can coin a word. The trick is to get people to use it. Dictionaries have boards of editors who determine which words to include. They choose new words from those that seem to be a part of common usage.

If “D’oh!” can officially become a word, it’s obvious that the coinage of a word isn’t the hardest step :slight_smile:


That’s pretty much how it works, except what they decide is whether or not to put it in their particular dictionary, and how to label it (“slang,” “informal,” - or maybe “obsolete” for words or meanings no longer in use.) There is no such thing in English as an “official” word, just words that have been sanctioned by inclusion in a published dictionary. The one regarded as being most authoritative is the Oxford English Dictionary, but there are lots of others, some of which are much more ready to accept new words or meanings. Dictionary publishers have staff members whose job it is to read books, magazines, etc. and find and document instances of new words being used, or words used in a new sense. Once enough of these citations have accumulated, the word will be included in the next edition.

The etymology of ‘D’oh’ in OED even gives Bart Simpson as source for its common use. :smiley:

The OED currently encompasses 500.000 words out of which half are ‘normal’ words and the rest technical or specialist terms words. That makes the English language the richest of all in vocabulary. Adding terms that have yet to enter the OED some estimates point towards 625.000 words. For a reference of what a staggering size that is, know that for instance German has about 175.000 ‘normal’ words and totals barely 300.000 including technical terms. German instead relies on a free allowance to create compoundwords leading to great stuff like komanditgesellschaftsvorstandssecretaerin…say that if you can!

ATBS your average English speaker uses only 800-1.500 words and even extremely verbose specialized journalists rarely go beyond 6.000. So go ahead and invent another one, but only if you must.

Verbally speaking


How frightfully embarrassing of me to jumble the syntax in a post about the English language :o

If you want to invent a word and go down in history as the inventor, you really have to be the first to put it in a freely accessible printed source. That way the OED can cite it when they add it someday.

In the time it took to open this thread, I invented two words, unless anybody can dispute me.

Glorbify - to deify Michael Gorbachev.
cellulatto - a dessert to to remind you of YOUR OWN FAT ASS!.

As far as I know, you can invent the name before the product. :stuck_out_tongue:

I say, if you can make it a repeated word on The Simpsons, your word will be relatively eternal, especially on DVD!

I see upon Googling that cellulato is some kind of foreign term, possibly Italian, and I can’t read what it means.

But I have glorbify all to myself!

Oh yeah, do a Google on your word. IMO, if you get 0 hits, it’s yours.

If you don’t have a word yet, I suggest one that can be fairly easily mistyped using another common word, and open a web page dedicated to it. It could span the globe in hours!

Not to mention debate about origination. Are we sure BART said D’oh first? If Homer didn’t coin it, he certainly has done well at making it his own.

Oh man, SPARC, the OED has taken us for a ride! :mad:

I just remembered! Somewhere I read BOTH Bart and Homer are FICTIONAL characters!


Somebody else, somebody ALIVE, and sinisterly lurking behind the scenes, must have done it.

ROTFL :smiley:

We are tired at this time of the morning. Indeed we intended to say Homer…


Hey, hang on yojimboguy… this last bit about ‘em figures bein’ all make believe an’ what… THAT we won’t buy… Cite Please!

Well, all the pics I can find LOOK like what I THINK Homer SHOULD look like, so I can’t prove it.

Theeeere you GO!

I knew you could count on those limeys!

<echo>There is no ‘official’, word meanings do change over time, and common usage is the only way to get a word really accepted. A word is a word when it’s a word.</echo>

My word is ecquaintance (or equaintance), as in a person you know online. You are all ecquaintances, if I meet you IRL you become an acquaintance, and if we hit it off you’d be a friend. Then I’ll annoy you, and you’ll go bakc to acquaintance, then you’ll never see me IRL any more and you’ll be an ecquaintance, and then an eenemy…

I have been eaiting a year to be able to use this, ever since I learned it, Billy, I challenge the veracity of your circumlocution :smiley:

This reminds me of an episode that happened in Germany a few years back.

The editors of Duden, one of the best-reputated German dictionaries, discovered the lack of a word they thought to be desperately needed in the language; there’s the term “satt”, meaning you’re not hungry, but they supposed there should be a term meaning “not thirsty” as well.
The publishing company launched a competition and encouraged to send in suggestions for the would-be word. They received plenty of mail, and in the end they annouced “sitt”, neologism formed as an analogy to its counterpart, the winner. “Sitt” was included in the dictionary’s new edition, and the publishers made an appeal to the population to use that word.

The whole thing failed terribly; I’ve never heard anybody using the term (except jocularly, after discussing the competition), and I think it’s not even included in the latest editions any more.

You can always play my game