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New words

December 2, 2011

George Orwell wrote, in his essay ‘New Words’, that we ought to make a practice of deliberately coining new words, whenever we see a gap in the language – a concept that can’t be easily expressed with the words already at our disposal. He didn’t give all that many examples in the essay, as far as I remember, but one case he instanced was that we don’t have a word for grown-up children – if your children are in their fifties you still have to say ‘my children’ when talking of them, which doesn’t seem quite right.

Brian Aldiss, in his short story ‘Confluence’ (which is an extract from an imaginary dictionary of the alien language Confluence) gave, among many others, the Confluence expression CHAM ON TH ZAM which means ‘the act of being witty when no one else appreciates it’ – which I should certainly say we need. Perhaps we should just start saying cham on th zam. 

One gap that occurs to me is that, although we have a word for giving people food – we feed them – we do not have a word for giving people drink. If we are talking of animals we can use water  (‘He fed and watered  his horses’) but you can’t use this of people. Maybe we could just start using the nouns for drinks as transitive verbs? (‘He fed and wined his guests’). Actually, come to think of it, we do say ‘wining and dining’, but that is rather a restricted expression. Come to think of it again, Homer Simpson does say ‘Beer me’ – perhaps we are moving in the right direction on this one.

Another omission is that, while most words for bodily functions or other indelicate matters have a medical or scientific equivalent which sounds more respectable, (e.g. we can say perspire rather than sweat, and urinate rather than piss, and defecate rather than shit etc etc) there is no scientific equivalent for the word fart. That’s it, fart, that’s all you can say. Well, there are euphemisms like break wind or pass wind, but that is not really the same thing. Any suggestions would be welcome – as would suggestions for any other concept that seems to be missing a word.

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  1. C. Robshaw permalink

    Is “flatulate” not a real word?

    • Well, it’s not in the OED. But I’ve just googled it and it is in Wiktionary. Well done. That’s our word. If we all start using it maybe we can get it into the next edition of the OED.

      • C. Robshaw permalink

        Heard the other day that the minimum standard for inclusion in the OED is use by 3 separate authors – do you know whether that’s true?

      • I don’t know if that’s true. But let’s try and get three mentions in print and see if it works. Can you use the word ‘flatulate’ in your next piece for the English Review?

      • C. Robshaw permalink

        Brandon! Did you just say “try and” (yes, you did)? I am shocked. & I’ll do my best to stick “flatulate” into something.

  2. Yes, I did say ‘try and’ – I’m afraid I’ve never been all that bothered by it. I do know it is supposed to be ‘try to’, but ‘try and’ sounds quite natural to me. Sorry!

    • C. Robshaw permalink

      But you can’t say it any other tense! You can’t say “I tried and…” or “I was trying and…”, & it just doesn’t make any sense because it implies you’ve already succeeded before you’ve even tried!

      • Well, you can use it in a future tense, actually. But I take your point. I will avoid it from henceforth.

      • C. Robshaw permalink

        Here’s another one, too, that studying German got me thinking about – why can’t you use modal verbs in other tenses? Why can’t you say “I oughted” or “I will must”?

      • I feel like saying ‘You just can’t’, but there may be a better answer than that.

      • C. Robshaw permalink

        Another funny thing, possibly related, is that they don’t seem to exist in the infinitive – there’s no “to can” or “to must”.

  3. I got what you mean , saved to my bookmarks , really good site . 835999

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