Neologizing 101: Let’s Make a Word!

In a language as complex and complicated as English, we have over a million different ways to say just one word or phrase. Even with all of that available flexibility, there are still many times where we want to express our feelings on something, but do not have the ways to accurately say what it is with the current words that we know and even using the dictionary doesn’t help. That is where being a neologist is a helpful tool. Erin McKean, the author of Neologizing 101, defines neologizing as “the practice of coining new words.” She also goes into detail about the rules behind making a new word that should be followed. Using her essay as a guide, today we will be coming up with a new word of our own!

So for today’s word, I am going to be trying to describe a family member of mine, however, he both is and isn’t technically related to me. He goes by the nickname “Pac”,  and I have known him since I was a little kid, so for at least fifteen years. He was a friend of my aunt’s as well as my mom and the rest of her siblings and parents. Anyway, about seven years ago, my aunt and Pac had a child together who I know as my cousin, even though my aunt and mother jokingly call me her uncle because of the age difference and how our relationship normally stands. The issue I have been having is that I want to call Pac my uncle, but even though him and my aunt have been living together for years even before conceiving my cousin, they are not married. Because of this, pretty much every time I see him I just kind of awkwardly call him Pac, but I want to say a word like “uncle” in front of his name as a form of respect.

McKean’s list of rules to follow when making words starts with this first most important one: pronounceability. If you can’t pronounce the word even after successfully hashing it together, what was the point of creating it to begin with? You have to make sure you use enough vowels to help your word flow properly. The next rule is to avoid words that have too many possible ways that it can spoken. You don’t need to recreate the to-may-to or to-mah-to debate, so just be aware of that. Along with that rule, try to also just generally avoid silent letters and don’t even think about adding punctuation or other special characters into your words. No one is going to want to deal with having to spell that, let alone say it. Finally, the word doesn’t have to made from scratch; it’s quite useful to research roots and affixes that mean things that you want to describe, so try looking for those to help you out. The origin of the roots don’t all have to be from the same place either, so if you would like to mix Latin and Greek roots, then do so by all means.

The word I create isn’t necessarily going to be affixed to his name when I talk to him in the future, but it will be a self-proclaimed title that I will use in my head whenever I talk to Pac. It will start with the root “demi-” which is a Latin word meaning half, which represents his partial relationship to me. The next portion of the word will be the root “patr(i)-” which is a Latin and Greek word meaning father, which will not only represent the status of father that he has for my cousin, but also represents that like a father or uncle, he kind of has a paternal figure role in our family. Finally, I think I want to finish this word with the suffix “-eer” which is of French and Latin origin; words ending in this suffix are nouns that denote what a person is concerned with. The final word we have created will have either one of two spellings: demipatrier or demipatreer. The definition of our word is a man who is related to a family like a father or uncle but isn’t actually the father or uncle of people in that family. This is still a bit confusing probably, but it works in theory.

Coming up with words is fun and interesting, and really helps people to get their points across. Next time you stumble across being unable to speak your mind due to a literal lack of proper wording, make up your own!