27 August 08 | Chad W. Post

This isn’t related to international literature per se, but Erin McKean’s Boston Globe column about what makes a word real is very interesting. And, maybe, tangentially related to issues translators face. (OK, it’s a stretch, although freeing themselves to come up with new words when necessary, could benefit some translations.)

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 . . .”

There’s no good reason for the “not a real word” stigma. They all look like English words: they’re written in the roman alphabet, without numbers or funny symbols. They’re all easily pronounced — not a qwrtlg or a gxrch in the group. From a purely functional point of view, they act like words: relationshippy in the sentence “Just come to the conclusion that boys don’t like talking about relationshippy things” behaves in exactly the same way that an adjective like girly would. [. . .]

As she points out, existing in a dictionary isn’t enough, nor is frequency, spellchecker recognition, frequency, or appearing in print. The real point of her piece though is to eliminate the “I know it’s not a real word” sentiment:

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.”

So, last week I was talking with David from Idlewild books (an store whose kickassery nature I want to write about in more detail soon) about the need for a word to describe when a great idea gets all f’d up due to incompetence, poor execution, whatever. It happens all the time (I can think of five examples that I encountered over the past couple days) and it would be really useful to have a word to identify this . . . Any suggestions?

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