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Author Topic: Made-up Words: what works?
Crane
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I saw this blog entry on tor.com about new words from sci-fi and fantasy that have and have not entered the language.

This is a fun topic. I'm wondering: what made-up words do you use? What is the difference between a made up word that catches on and one that doesn't? Is there something about the word itself that makes it a good word?

I use 'grok' and 'tanstaafl'.


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Robert Nowall
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I'm fond of the word "rectofossal," which I saw in a Spider Robinson book review.
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NoTimeToThink
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I prefer words that are not simply made up, but that actually serve the purpose of informing the reader at the same time.
I thought Frank Herbert was particularly good at this. Words like "suspensors", "stillsuit" & "ornithopters" helped get the point of their functionality across without needing to go into a lot of description.

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MattLeo
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Whatever you do, use made-up words sparingly and introduce them gradually. Nothing is a bigger interest killer than a pile of jargon to memorize on the first page.
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Robert Nowall
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Herbert did not make up the term "ornithopter"---I cannot trace its precise origin point, who coined it and when, but it's derived from Greek: ornithos, "bird," and pteron, "wing."
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Wordcaster
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I need to find the recent Reader's Digest article (not online) that had the sci fi vocab quiz. It was just a few months ago.

Grok and draconic (not to be confused with draconian) are two words that come to mind. There were easier words like android and sentient too.


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LDWriter2
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I believe I have seen that word ornithopter somewhere else and if I do recall correctly I have seen a drawing of one.
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Crane
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Perhaps ornithopers were dreamed up by Da Vinci?

http://www.flyingmachines.org/davi.html


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Robert Nowall
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I admire Cordwainer Smith's use of the word cranch...it didn't catch on in the outer world, but it carries an emotional charge.

*****

Ornithopters are aircrafts that fly like birds---or were intended to. Outside of small unmanned ones no bigger than a couple of feet across, they didn't work. Da Vinci tried them, Lillienthal tried them, others have tried since, with a lot of failure and sometimes injury and death. It's reported that one of da Vinci's assistants broke a leg trying to get one airborne, but that might just be a rumor. (Some of the super-ultra-light stuff may have done better, but I have no data on hand on it. This other stuff came straight out of my own mind.)


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Wordcaster
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I have a self-propelled ornithopter in the novel I wrote. I had even read the wikipedia entry on it and a few websites as research.

I never called it that; however, finding the term a little much.


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MartinV
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Lately I'm tossing the word 'pictacious' around. Not sure if it means anything, haven't looked it up yet because I like to say it out loud. If it doesn't have meaning, I will use it in a story.
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Reziac
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http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=pictacious

So what does yours mean? There's no rule that a different language can't produce the same word with different meanings.


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MattLeo
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So "pictacious" is a perfectly cromulent word now?

Anyhow, the question you have to ask about any kind of language play is what it adds to the story. I'll illustrate with my current WIP, then explain what I hope the jargon accomplishes.

In my current WIP, the characters use nautical terminology to refer to their spacefaring equipment. This tendency starts out modestly: small spacecraft are "boats" and large ones are "ships". The floors inside a spacecraft are "decks" and the walls "bulkheads". Within the craft one orients oneself "abaft" (toward the "stern"), "ahead" (toward the "bow"), to port or starboard or generally "abeam", or perhaps "aloft" or "below".

One "boards" a small military ship or boat through an airlock, but large passenger vessels are boarded via a "companionway". In the same way the age of powerboats borrows and redefines many terms from the age of sail, the age of spacecraft redefines terminology from the age of surface boats. For example a below deck storage area is called a "chain locker" if "gear" can be deployed from it outside the hull, or a "lazarette" if not.

Now this is all set-up. The jargon really reaches a crescendo during action scenes. Some of it is copied, some adapted, and some cut from whole cloth, but it is all (I hope) carefully introduced so that it is understandable in context.

For example our hero-protagonist scout captain and her ex-husband launch the ship's "pinnace" to make a "landing" on an unexplored planet. They're unpleasantly surprised to find an unfriendly "frigate" has launched an "interceptor", which is "inserting into our de-orbit on our lee side". The ex-husband (a former navy man) remarks that he's often put a gunboat ahead of a target on the same landing approach trajectory in order to keep the target from "running downwind and losing us over the horizon."

The wily captain announces that she intends to "heave to and lay her down on her tail," so it will the interceptor that will pass over the horizon and thus lose track of them. The ex then cautions that they are approaching too "hot" to land so steeply. They ought to orbit the planet at least once before landing for safety.

A (hopefully) nail-biting "thruster duel" ensues, a game of chicken in which each pilot vies to "carve" the steepest approach he can without having his boat burn up on reentry like a shooting star. Of course the interceptor's pilot doesn't have Kate's nerves of steel; he chickens out and she wins the thruster duel.

When they make landfall and the captain inspects the "main propulsion truss" for damage, she finds that fuel has been sprayed on the "aft pressure bulkhead". A "pinhole" has developed in the fuel line which makes "arming" and "igniting" the thrusters in an oxygen atmosphere dangerous. The captain explains this to her ex because as a navy man he wouldn't know this due to his limited experience "dirtside"; it would be perfectly safe to arm and ignite the thrusters in space. The squabbling but still romantically attracted couple are now marooned on an alien planet, possibly for eternity.

Now using jargon this way is risky; I certainly wouldn't use it until I was far enough into the story to be reasonably certain the reader was committed to the fate of the characters. It's also a chore, because every bit of that jargon has to be made understandable in the context of the scene without recourse to providing a glossary. That also means that every bit of jargon has to have a meaning that's meticulously worked out. And it's entirely unnecessary. Since I have to make everything clear in plain language anyway, the jargon is quite superfluous.

This for me is experimental. I've done similar things in the past for comic effect, but in this case I want the readers to feel they've got a window into a plausible world, that they are looking over the shoulders of characters who have experiences and accomplishments that are exotic, yet understandable. None of the details actually matter, except insofar as they make the reader feel like part of the club, which won't happen if the jargon isn't made clear in context.

[This message has been edited by MattLeo (edited August 10, 2011).]


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MartinV
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Just realized I wrote it wrong. I meant piStacious, not piCtacious. I got it from 'pistacia' which is Slovene for pistachio.
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Reziac
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Ah, so "pistacious" would mean you're turning green?


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