When there are no words to say what you want to say, make one up. There’s nothing illegal about it. People have been doing it since the beginning of time.
When Adam turned to God and said, “What’s that?” do you really think the Almighty plopped a twelve volume set of the Oxford English Dictionary into his lap and replied, “Look it up. You’ll remember it longer?”
Webster’s adds new words to the dictionary every year. Last year’s additions include: brain freeze, chick flick, Wi-Fi, and zaibatsu.
(Bikini wax was also added, but I thought it inappropriate for a fifty-four-year-old Baptist minister to admit he knows about such things. Off the record—it’s beyond me why anyone would want to polish their swimsuit.)
Coming soon to a Webster’s near you: blog. My spell checker doesn’t recognize it yet, but the word has become part of our everyday vocabulary.
Not only are new words created every year, but new phrases as well. Once a phrase is repeated often enough it becomes a cliché and the target of every editor. The key to clichés is to be the first person to use them.
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes is riddled with clichés, only they weren’t clichés when Cervantes wrote them. Recognize these?
“The sweat of my brow.”
“Put you in this pickle.”
“Too much of a good thing.”
“Without a wink of sleep.”
“Thanks for nothing.”
“To give the devil his due.”
“A finger in every pie.”
“A wild goose-chase.”
“Mind your own business.”
“Within a stone’s throw.”
“Thou hast seen nothing yet.”
“I begin to smell a rat.”
The list goes on. All of them from a single novel.
Clichés are clichés because they’re so perfect; they say exactly what we want to say or wish we’d said.
A new word or phrase is said to be coined. As though there was money in it. There isn’t. (Though Disney hasn’t done too poorly for itself coining the words, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and twitterpated.)
As a writer, you are licensed to make up words and phrases. Plus, you have the added satisfaction of knowing that if you do it well enough and coin a cliché, editors will someday ruthlessly excise your creation from other writers’ manuscripts.
I thought I’d try my hand at coining something. Here are my proposed additions to future printings of Webster’s:
verbomit, n. 1. Amateurish, cathartic writing. 2. The disgorging of one’s thoughts and emotions onto paper; writing that is good to get out of your system, but unfit for publication.
Used in a sentence: Editor to fledgling writer— “I haven’t seen verbomit of this quality in years. Unfortunately, we’re not publishing verbomit right now.”
Etymology: Some words are created by sheer inspiration or desperation. I coined verbomit for this blog. (I’ll let you read into that what you will.) The word simply popped into my mind.
usee timmee, n. From the Greek. 1. A literary device that explains the purpose behind an author’s composition. 2. An example so simple a ten-year-old boy with a dog could understand it.
Used in a sentence: All of our daily devotionals have an usee timmee in them.
Etymology: Some words are thrust upon you. While teaching a writing class, I drew an illustration from a popular movie about two speechwriters. One writer explains to the other that all good speeches need a “You see, Timmy,” explanation—the kind used in the television series Lassie, when mom explains to Timmy the lesson he needs to learn in that episode. One of the conferees misunderstood me. She thought usee timmee was a Greek term…and a new phrase was coined in two languages.
tweechizone, n. That moment in a restaurant when you know exactly what you’re going to order, regardless of price or what anyone else is ordering.
Used in a sentence: I set the menu aside; I was in the tweechizone.
Etymology: Some words are family heirlooms. Tweechizone was handed down to me by my father. He used it when a person’s choice made no sense to him. Not until high school did I understand that tweechizone was actually, “to each his own.” To define this word I paired it with something else dear to my heart—food.
Now it’s your turn.
Here are a couple of suggestions to get you started—
1. Start with a name. Everyone knows what you mean when you call a man a Romeo or a Don Juan. An infamous example would be to call a man a quisling, from Vidkun Quisling, a Norwegian politician who sold out his country to the Nazis. His cowardly collaboration placed him in the dictionary, synonymous with traitor.
Ask yourself: What does it mean to pull a gansky? If you were to blackstock something, what would you do to it? If someone said, “You’re such a lambert!” what would they mean? If they were to say, “When in doubt, hoff it!” where would you start?
2. Coin a G-rated expletive or interjection that Christian novelists can use. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tracked down an innocent-sounding interjection only to discover that it has an irreverent or sexual etymology. Dig deep enough and even Mercy me! is tainted. We need good non-offensive expletives. Coin one and Christian novelists all over the world will rise up and call you blessed.
So that’s your assignment. Coin a word or phrase suitable for future editions of Webster’s Dictionary. Introduce it to the world in the comment section of this blog.
Advisory: Give this assignment the serious thought it deserves. I don’t want to see any verbomit.
Jack Cavanaugh, the author of Storm and Fury, for a listing of his books, click here.