I'm teaching a "writing-intensive" course this term, and I'm tempted to send my students this:

Funner. Impactful. Blowiest. Territorialism. Multifunctionality. Dialoguey. Dancey. Thrifting. Chillaxing. Anonymized. Interestinger. Wackaloon. Updatelette. Noirish. Huger. Domainless. Delegator. Photocentric. Relationshippy. Bestest. Zoomable.

What do all these words have in common? Someone, somewhere, is using them with a disclaimer like "I know it's not a real word..."


Writers who hedge their use of unfamiliar, infrequent, or informal words with "I know that's not a real word," hoping to distance themselves from criticism, run the risk of creating doubt where perhaps none would have naturally arisen.

Furthermore, those same writers are giving up one of their inalienable rights as English speakers: the right to create new words as they see fit. Part of the joy and pleasure of English is its boundless creativity: I can describe a new machine as bicyclish, I can say that I'm vitamining myself to stave off a cold, I can complain that someone is the smilingest person I've ever seen, and I can decide, out of the blue, that fetch is now the word I want to use to mean "cool." By the same token, readers and listeners can decide to adopt or ignore any of these uses or forms.

A shorter, snappier version of David Foster Wallace's "Authority and American Usage"? (Incidentally, I am assigning DFW's essay to my class, in all its 60+ page glory, because it provides a lot of helpful context that this brief newspaper piece lacks the space/time to include. The essay can be found in his non-fiction collection Consider the Lobster, which is filled to the brim with awesomeness.)

For some reason, I've never much used the "not a real word" line--neologisms are fun!--and I was always a little irritated by it (you never see it in academic philosophy, even though you know they're constantly making shit up).

At the same time, I don't want to see my students writing things like "While Kant was perhaps the most impactful writer of the Enlightenment, he was arguably also the blowiest. Dude needed some serious chillaxin'!" True, but ineloquent.

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