I recently chanced upon a website that reported 2,500 to 20,000 new words are added to the English language each year. And that doesn’t count the thousands generated in sub areas of science and technology, according to a recent posting by the University of Pennsylvania’s Language Log.
Long before I had heard of neology — the coining of new words — I was intrigued by the notion of word invention. I even tried out some phonemes, and cobbled consonants and vowels that sounded like legitimate words. I came up with capidgilence and diaflucus, but defining them proved elusive and I abandoned the effort for several decades, until several years ago when I learned that yada-yada-yada garnered entry into the “Oxford English Dictionary.”
It brought back to mind my youthful creations, and I wondered if they might have a shot. Might capidgilence and diaflucus also obtain some lexicographer’s imprimatur as well?
Who gets to create words and have them accepted? According to the online Community Dictionary, all new words must be “used and approved by humans before publishing.” This seems absurd on the face of it. Other sentient creatures neither utter nor scribe words.
As English contains more words than any other language, it also requires more word developers. A report from the Global Language Monitor states that 74 new words are added to our language every day, and that we reached a million of them in June, 2009.
So a few months ago I began including nugatory concoctions into casual chats, hoping that others would also employ capidgilence or diaflucus, thus spurring the emergence of reasonable definitions. But people seem too polite to inquire about capidgilence or diaflucus, perhaps assuming what they’ve just heard is too erudite or that the speaker is three beans shy of a bag.
Consider capidgilence a noun as in, “Who’s responsible for all this capidgilence?” Or, “If you think I’m putting up with any more of your capidgilence, you’ve got another think coming, sister.” A college chum, Cliff, suggested capidgilence had an adjective form as well. Capidgilent: i.e, “I’ll brook no more of that capidgilent attitude, young man.” Another friend posited capidgilent might mean “of or pertaining to capidgil.” I liked this, but that designation is oblique and it mandates a further connotation for capidgil. In any case, capidgilence/capidgilent potentially serves a variety of applications.
During our carefree undergraduate years, Cliff and I once penned a letter to the editor of the college newspaper in which we excoriated the student senate for its arrogant refusal to abrogate campus parking lot capidgilence, and by not asserting their authority the senators would never achieve diaflucus.
We learned that members of the student senate were upset with our missive, and the paper’s editor, who was dating the student body president, worried about how publishing the letter might affect that relationship.
My theater professor stopped me after class the day the letter appeared. He held a copy of the paper open to the letters section and demanded, “What is this all about? Another one of your shenanigans?” (Disclosure: Several weeks earlier, bereft of lunch money, I solicited students in the cafeteria for contributions to the widow of the Unknown Soldier.)
Several years removed from graduate school, I was teaching at a Wisconsin university where a colleague was piqued by having to explain sick-leave absences from class. He and I suspected that no one read the forms, so one time he submitted a statement referring to his suffering from arachibutyrophobia — fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth. This did not pass muster and the fellow was reprimanded by the assistant dean, who informed him that absences are to be taken seriously. On the other hand, when I missed class a week later, no rebuke ensued upon my submission of “diaflucus” as the cause.
But once again I’m preoccupied with neology, and obsess about how new words reach people on the street to become absorbed into common usage Perhaps it’s as simple as insinuating capidgilence or diaflucus into conversations, and hoping definitions come forth. Might I request your cooperation here?
Should cogent explications materialize, forward them to me. I know an emeritus academic who submits words for consideration to the editors of the OED. I’ll pass them on to him, and perhaps he’ll send them to his editors. I mean if yada-yada-yada is in, why not capidgilence and diaflucus?
Michael Fedo is the author of “The Lynchings in Duluth,” “The Man From Lake Wobegon” and other books.