Saturday, March 31, 2012

Inventing words for writing fiction (and Lewis Carroll's invented words)

The following poem is considered the epitome of writing using invented words or neologisms (neologism: a newly coined term, word, or phrase that may be in the process of entering common use but has not yet been accepted into mainstream language).

Lewis Carroll

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"
He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought

So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.
And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!
One, two! One, two! And through and through

The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.
"And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!'
He chortled in his joy.

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Bandersnatch: A swift moving creature with snapping jaws, capable of extending its neck.

Beamish: Radiantly beaming, happy, cheerful. Although Carroll may have thought he had coined this word, it is attested from 1530.

Borogove: A thin shabby-looking bird with its feathers sticking out all round, "something like a live mop". The initial syllable of borogove is pronounced as in borrow rather than as in worry.

Brillig: Four o'clock in the afternoon: the time when you begin broiling things for dinner.

Burbled: Possibly a mixture of "bleat", "murmur", and "warble". Burble is also a pre-existing word, circa 1303, meaning to form bubbles as in boiling water. The Dutch word broebelen still retains this meaning of bubbling boiling water.

Chortled: Combination of chuckle and snort.

Frabjous: Possibly a blend of fair, fabulous, and joyous.

Frumious: Combination of "fuming" and "furious".

Galumphing: Perhaps a blend of "gallop" and "triumphant". Used to describe a way of "trotting" down hill, while keeping one foot further back than the other. This enables the Galumpher to stop quickly.

Gimble: To make holes as does a gimlet.

Gyre: To go round and round like a gyroscope. However, Carroll also wrote in Mischmasch that it meant to scratch like a dog. The g is pronounced like the /g/ in gold, not like gem.

Jubjub bird: A desperate bird that lives in perpetual passion, according to the Butcher in Carroll's later poem The Hunting of the Snark.

Manxome: Fearsome. A portmanteau of "manly" and "buxom", the latter relating to men for most of its history.

Mimsy: Combination of "miserable" and "flimsy".

Mome: Possibly short for "from home," meaning that the raths had lost their way.

Outgrabe (past tense; present tense outgribe): Something between bellowing and whistling, with a kind of sneeze in the middle.

Rath: A sort of green pig. (See Origin and structure for further details.)

Snicker-snack: An onomatopoeia of unclear meaning, possibly referring to sharpness.

Slithy: Combination of "slimy" and "lithe." The i is long, as in writhe.

Tove: A combination of a badger, a lizard, and a corkscrew. They are very curious looking creatures which make their nests under sundials and eat only cheese. Pronounced so as to rhyme with groves. Note that "gyre and gimble," i.e. rotate and bore, is in reference to the toves being partly corkscrew by Humpty Dumpty's definitions.

Tulgey: Thick, dense, dark.

Uffish: A state of mind when the voice is gruffish, the manner roughish, and the temper huffish.

Vorpal: See vorpal sword.

Wabe: The grass plot around a sundial. It is called a "wabe" because it goes a long way before it, and a long way behind it, and a long way beyond it on each side.

So how do you invent words for your work?
  • You can combine two words, using sections of each, to create a new word that holds the meaning of both or a combination thereof.
  • You can combine consonants and vowels using the conventions of the English language, or whichever language you choose, to form new words to describe unknown people, places, things and creatures.
  • Take a word currently in use and change a syllable to one close to the original but not in use as a variation of the original. Then assign the meaning you want, bearing in mind that one related to the original word's meaning will likely work best.
  • If you need a series of words, make sure to choose a single origin to base them on. Namely, Greek or Latin or Old, Middle or Modern English. If they are all from the same branch of the language tree then there will be a consistency to your words that will leave the impression of a functioning language.
  • Be sure to reference the dictionary for information on the origins of any word or syllable.
  • Remember to assign several definitions according to use and tenses for functional use in your writing.
  • Be sure to take into account the usage you have planned for your words and 'flavour' them accordingly. Science fiction invented words are best based on technological words, fantasy on fantastical or poetic words etc.

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