10 September 2012

craft tip monday 9/10: naming it---word creation

 aota: a neologism based on the abbreviation for “all of the above”; ex: “Which of these is your favorite color: red, green, or blue?” “Aota! They all are ... I could never pick just one!”

word creation: defining the undefinable
If you’re a fan of Shakespeare, you probably know at least a little bit about neologisms. Shakespeare was something of a master when it came to the creation of new words and phrases. Now familiar terms like “auspicious,” “barefaced,” and “dwindle” have all been attributed to the Bard, as well as phrases like “break the ice” and “It’s Greek to me.” Who knows what led old Will to create so many new phrases? Maybe the words that were already around simply weren’t enough for what he wanted to express. We all, as writers, know what that feels like.

And this is probably a good indication that we all also have the potential to be wordsmiths ourselves.

“what’s in a name?”

“A rose,” Shakespeare famously penned, “by any other name would smell as sweet.” And maybe that’s true. But there’s something about the word “rose” that calls forth so many emotions and associations: it’s love, or friendship, a memorial service, a tango. But let’s say the word “rose” isn’t enough for the fullness of the passion you’re feeling. Maybe no word is enough. Why not, then, create your own?

Word creation is a way of defining the undefinable, just like the act of writing itself. It's fun---just like the creation of the word "aota," a word I created in elementary school with some friends, for no other reason than to have created something new and all our own. It’s a way for us to create something out of tiny bits of what we want to express. And the act of creating, and defining, our own words for things can itself be the inspiration for a piece of writing.


It’s funny, but until I started thinking about all the potential there is in creating words, I didn’t even make the connection to last Monday’s post with the poetic form I created, the settennet. As I was inventing the form, I was trying to come up with what to call it, and didn’t want to base the name on my name. I remember browsing the internet, looking for different language’s words for “seven”, and thinking about the origin of the poem itself. The combination of “seven” and “sonnet” led me to settennet. And there seems to be, for me, so much more power in the name, and the form, from the naming of it. That’s a power you, too, can have, as you create your own words for things.

So why not give it a shot? Come up with a concept, or an emotion, or an experience that seems to defy words, and create a word for it. Then, in a piece of writing, provide the definition of the word. It might be a paragraph or page of prose, or a poem … simply try to capture as much of the concept in your new word, and your definition of it, as you can.

Here’s my attempt at it:


In Middle English we had words
for things, too—we knew what to call
them, even without knowing where
this knowing came from. Having words
for love  has never made it easy to define.
We call love everything but undefinable
even hunger—to try to wrap it up in a loaf
of bread and swallow it down.

In Middle English the word
for bread was breed, and now
we bind that, too, to love: that longing,
that hunger, that inescapable
swallowing down that can never satisfy.

So I create my own name for you
and how you leave me. I name you
love deeper than hunger,
and I swallow you, like all
good breeding, whole.


Want to stay connected? I invite you to connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. And sign up for free email updates from this blog in the top right corner of the page.


Check out these related posts on Our Lost Jungle:


  1. I think you've just summed up about 40% of my writing drive. :P

    No, but really, as a linguist-poet, it's a theme I keep coming back to in my work as well, and I think you've treated it nicely. (The bread/breed connection is a charming one to make.) Some say that Ancient Greek had the richest vocabulary, and that's why they were such great philosophers; how enviable! Part of the task of the poet (or any writer) is to sum up those unnamed things with metaphors and other bastard children, so coining a new word, getting it all in a couple syllables, must be such a relief. (Though all the ones I've made have been dirty, I think.)

    Digging the settennet as well. Can I interest you in trading for a kyrioum? ;)

    1. You can interest me, Joseph! Please share. And, there is something about creating our own words that tends to take our brains in strange (and yes, sometimes--or often--dirty) directions! :)

    2. Finally got around to it: Milagrymos. And it's a settennet, furthermore...

      Stop by and check out the kyrioum if you'd like!


Thank you so much for your comments! Please feel free to share your thoughts here; I look forward to engaging in conversation with you!

Featured Post

Sankofa: The Power of Known History

I recently took on two challenges in the sphere of political and cultural advocacy: understanding the roots of our democracy and national l...