This is topic Thoughts on inventing words? in forum Open Discussions About Writing at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

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Posted by wetwilly (Member # 1818) on :
When is it okay, and when is it not, for you?

My specific example, from my current WIP:

"It smelled sharp and bleachy."

I like the short, punchy descriptive sentence. I feel like it communicates exactly the vibe I want to capture. "Bleachy" is, of course, not a word, though.

Thoughts? Do you invent words when you need them?

(I'm not so much looking for critique of this specific description, but curious about your thoughts on inventing your own words in general.)
Posted by MattLeo (Member # 9331) on :
Depends on context. What does the character or narrator speaking these words sound like? Is it in-character our out-of-character? Some narrators are more formal and correct than others, some are more inventive and conversational. Neither is more "correct" as fiction, in my opinion. Character dialog certainly enjoys poetic license, but I think narrator voices ought to enjoy the same license.

I try to change up the narration depending on the story -- particularly first person narration, but third person narrators also have personalities. Think of the sly, avuncular narrator of The Hobbit. He's a big part of the experience of reading that book, and he's quite different from the narrator of Lord of the Rings.

I think a narrator's personality ought to feel appropriate and credible for the kind of story he's telling. If the narrator is handing down sacred tribal lore he's going to use well-worn and even antique phrases. If he's relating experiences of a middle-school character he's most likely going to use simple, informal and sometimes "incorrect" language -- unless you're going for ironic contrast.

Of course neologisms will always offend language prigs, who make it their mission to beat everyone down into a uniform style that would win the approval of thier high school composition teachers.

I don't do many short stories, but if you are targeting a specific contest or magazine you might consider whether that venue seems to favor a certain "house style". If that style is formal and priggish you probably want to avoid coining any new words. If it's informal and slangy then go for it.
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
-y and -ie are noun and adjective word suffixes used commonly for everyday talk and are listed and defined in dictionaries -- Webster's 11th Collegiate, for example. Therefore, "bleachy" is an appropriate word in its artful contexture usages, as an adjective in the use "It smelled sharp and bleachy."

Strunk and White's The Elements of Style disparages unconventional uses of prefixes and suffixes to alter a word's meaning. "Bleachy" falls in that consideration. However, Strunk and White is prescriptively guidance for formal academic writing, not per se for performance writing like fiction.

The Poetics of Aristotle favors invention of words for best effect, a rhetorical effect; meaning a persuasive effect. Likewise, Aristotle disparages unsuitable uses, when an invented word clouds or weakens persuasive effect.

Use of the term "bleachy" then is a matter of whether the word serves its function: an olfactory sensation descriptive use. The word to me doesn't on its own or with "sharp" fully artfully describe the sensation. As the sentence is, the description is direct and tangible, external, mechanical expression: more tell summary and explanation than reality imitation show. More texture I feel would be stronger and clearer, mainly emotional attitude texture.

Strong and clear description incorporates attitude commentary, especially personal emotional attitude commentary: subjective commentary personal to a viewpoint reflector narrator or agonist. Subjective to mean personal observation and reaction, not per se subjective in the sense of "unreliable" or factually incredulous and open to question. Ease of interpretation would use "bleachy" in a texture expression that clarifies the exact smell of which bleaching agent and whether the smell, whatever "it" is, is pleasant or unpleasant, welcome regardless of pleasantness or unpleasantness, or unwelcome.

I assume a hypochlorite bleach, which smells of chlorine. How strongly? The mild, pleasant aroma a home brewer smells after bottle sterilization is a welcome one. A houskeeper who accidentally mixes bleach and lye or ammonia is in for a battlefield gas exposure, a painful smell of hot pepper and sour pineapple, that stings the nostrils and back of the throat and tastes metallic, maybe even asphyxiates, perhaps chemically burns the mouth, throat, and lungs' mucosa: most unpleasant and unwelcome.

Yes, I do use words inventively, invented as needed, though general readers balk at unconventional terms. I recollect a fragment thread of Meredith's which readers balked at "Mage." Though a dictionary term, unfamiliarity with the term caused headaches.

[ November 01, 2014, 05:51 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by Reziac (Member # 9345) on :
I don't care if it's a word or not. It will be, if I need that word.

"It smelled sharp and bleachy."

Works for me! Gets the idea across right bloody now.
Posted by TaleSpinner (Member # 5638) on :
"It smelled sharp, like bleach" is the same number of words.

But bleachy's peachy if that's the feel you want.

Inventing words is a vital part of SF&F writing, I think. Where would we be without new nouns (ansible, dilithium crystals, muggles) and verbs (grok)? Or new meanings for old words (companion, transporter).
Posted by Pyre Dynasty (Member # 1947) on :
Language isn't static, if it is then it becomes a dead language. If it is understood right away then it is a well crafted new word. Even if the meaning isn't immediately clear but becomes so after a while it still works. Made up words can become a sort of inside joke for your readers.
Posted by wetwilly (Member # 1818) on :
My thought is, if writers aren't allowed to make up new words, then who is?

If I find a concept that I need a new word to describe, then I have discovered a deficiency in the English language (or in my own vocabulary). By inventing the new word, I am patching a hole and enriching the language.

That's right; by using "bleachy," I am saving English.
Posted by TaleSpinner (Member # 5638) on :
Language indeed isn't static. I understand that lexicographers keep a "corpus", a database of current written English. When usage of a new word exceeds a threshold, the word makes it into the next edition of the dictionary.

So the prospect of "bleachy" making it alongside blazonry is less than bleak.
Posted by Reziac (Member # 9345) on :
When I was in college, I decided that it was more efficient to combine "speaking thereof" with "speaking of which" to form "speaking therewhich" (and I use it to this day).

After a time I noticed others on campus using "speaking therewhich", and within a few years it had osmosed into the general population -- I'd hear it on the street from total strangers.

But in the 30 years I'd been gone from this town, it seems to have died out (at least, I haven't yet heard anyone using it, other than myself).
Posted by extrinsic (Member # 8019) on :
Guidance such as Strunk and White's, Aristotle's, other references, serve to aid writer decisions about, for example, invented words, coined terms, idioms, and rhetorical figures. A spectrum between possible vice or possible virtue expression may fall closer to one extreme and no less work or not work for an audience segment.

The more educated or specialized or geocentrically located a writer or speaker is, the more likely words and terms will be unfamiliar to general receivers.

A term I use in the short fiction fragment I recently posted is a Middle English term from a U.S. region where the term is of common usage, and several other Canadian and U.S. regions. Webster's and OED define the term and variant spellings, claim the etymology of the term dates to early sixteenth century, though of unknown origin. I know the term's origin through research.

Sometimes reliable references fail to fully fulfill their functions and purposes. In this case, though, the term is a dictionary one. Readers still balk at the term for its unfamilarity. A vice then of decorum: Suit one's words and subject matter each to the other, the occasion, and the audience. The audience is patently limited to readers familiar with the term, unless the term's mythology is timely and judiciously developed.

Mythology as pertains to invented words likewise artfully develops terms' meanings. "Ansible," for example, cited above, Ursula K. Le Guin artfully develops the term's mythology in the novel Rocannon's World. The term has since been used less artfully through name exposition: summary that tells a motif's name though without mythology development, relying instead on Le Guin's mythology to lend the term meaning.

"Bleachy" for me falls between vice and virtue, perhaps closer to virtue for its ease of interpretation and ready familiarity for readers, though a name exposition. "Speaking therewhich," likewise a generally unfamiliar and uncoventional nature, ready interpretation, though as a community idiom, perhaps closer to virtue than vice for its mixed adjective and adverb uses as a character development motif: affected expression.

[ November 03, 2014, 06:24 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]
Posted by Robert Nowall (Member # 2764) on :
Seems to be a writer's privilege to create new words, or new definitions for old words---so many have had success at it---but one must be leery of leaning too heavy on them. "Bleachy" seems self-defining, but something else, like the abovementioned "ansible," might need something more to define it. (I can't remember how Le Guin handled it; been too many years since I last read Rocannon's World, if that's where it was defined.)

A Google search of "bleachy" comes up with one hundred twelve thousand results, though the definition probably varies from usage to usage. ("Ansible" gets five hundred thirty three thousand results, probably because of its use as a corporate moniker for computer / smartphone platforms, or whatever it is they make.)
Posted by rstegman (Member # 3233) on :
Many of the old master writers -- Arthur C Clark, Isaac Asimov, etc. -- created many new words that are now in use.

We commonly know what a Glock, a Howetzer, a Hoover, is. These are all named after someone involved in the creation of them. In your world, you would introduce the term, show what it is, and then use it regularly.

Combining or changing words, such as Bleachy, is likely common to do.
Try reading something written in the 1700s and then read something written today. They did not use contractions at all. They were exceedingly wordy They are not really the same language...

As long as you know from the term, such as Bleachy, or from a quick explanation, what the word or term means, use it as needed.
Posted by TaleSpinner (Member # 5638) on :
"You remember the ansible, the machine I showed you in the ship, which can speak instantly to other worlds, with no loss of years — it was that that they were after, I expect."

Rocannon’s World, by Ursula K Le Guin, 1966.

More at
Posted by shimiqua (Member # 7760) on :
I think it's awesome to invent words in dialog or close pov, but in description, it brings a lot of attention to the word, which could cause a stumbling block for some readers.

An invented word take the reader a moment to realize what it is. Which is fine, it's just a cost that you should be aware of. I personally prefer "Sharp, like bleach." However if you have a character remarking on someone's hair and they say, "Dude, your hair's all bleachy." Then I'm on board, because it's characterization.

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