As explained in a prior post, words matter. A lot. Word choices have been proven to shape, facilitate and constrain thinking, lead to moral judgements and changes in behavior. While science now proves this, it’s been known for years by anyone seeking to persuade, inspire, prejudice, suppress and impress.
What’s more, the marketplace that’s all a flutter? Given the degree to which we’re all networked and operating at the speed of light, it’s just one big conversation. So imagine what a few powerful new words could do to help improve and speed it’s recovery>
In these times of disruption, volatility and hype, many existing nouns, verbs and adjectives can seem inadequate in expressing what we feel and what we hope others will see. New words and idioms are needed. And you – yes you – just might be the person to provide them, and thus some much needed inspiration, laughter or insight. Why, with only the 2 minutes it will take you to read this article, you’ll find it pretty easy, and I’d posit, even fun, to come up with a new word or two that would help capture something helpful to yourself, and others, too.
When it comes to neologism, it seems some “insightment” (Origin, unknown. But not to be confused with incitement.) is generally the mother of invention. Take the new word Coronapocalypse. No doubt it was inspired by some “aha” its creator had, which he or she used to precisely capture what the word “pandemic” really means to us personally. Similar ahas of the last few years captured other things we all felt but had no words to express:
- Frenemies: people with whom one is friendly despite a fundamental dislike or rivalry.
- Coopetition: the collaboration between business competitors, in the hope of mutually beneficial results.
- Trilemma: When the difficult choice is no longer between two things but three.
- Nappuccino: (Origin, Daniel Pink, 2018.)
- Jobfuscate: Instructions so confusing one doesn’t know exactly how to proceed.
- And among the most famous of all, Truthiness: The quality of something advocated to be true which, in the face of evidence, may not be.
To help you express what you see and feel, and also, gift others with new terms to use when ordinary words seem inadequate for the times, here’s a short but helpful “how-to.” (You’ll immediately see it didn’t take a rocket scientist to come with it only a researcher like me who, for 10 years, has collected a file of great examples.)
- APPLY A STANDARD SUFFIX:
- Trustworthy. Creditworthy.
- Disneyworld. Shellworld. T-Shirt World. (This suffix is frequently used in Orlando, FL.)
- Trucklet. A small truck, inspired by the suffix “-ette” meaning diminuative.
- Sausage-fest. Derived from the decades-old description that, like making sausage, gaining agreement among politicians can be messy, The New York Times recently used it describe what the 2020 Democratic race for President was becoming.
- APPLY A STANDARD PREFIX:
- Unpeace. UnCola.
- Wikileaks. Wikipedia.
- Previvor. (Origin 2000 by an organization called FORCE: Facing our Risk of Cancer Empowered, to describe a person who is a survivor of a predisposition to cancer, meaning they have a higher risk for developing a specific type of cancer – have not been diagnosed, but can be proactive in prevention. )
- LEVERAGE A BRAND NAME:
- Etsytorium. The meeting place at the company of the same name.
- “The Tom Hanks Awakening.” (American idiom. Origin: March 16, 2020 by Erin Griffith when, in The New York Times, branding the moment when so many Americas first took Covid-19 seriously.)
- HIJACK AN ADJECTIVE’S MEANING TO COIN A NOUN:
- Cleverling. (Usage often pejorative.)
- MAKE AN ADJECTIVE INTO A VERB:
- Robustify. Recently used by a scientist at the University of Wisconsin talking about the need to gather more data to strengthen, aka robustify, conclusions.
- MAKE A NOUN INTO A VERB:
- Famously, Google led to “googling,” the synonym for an online search.
- THE OLD STANDARD, COMBINE TWO EXISTING WORDS TO MAKE A NEW ONE:
- Spousenomics. Applying economic principles to the business of a marriage.
- Headtrash. Junk in your mind which some might say I have just added to.
- Roadrage. While not so new a word (Origin, Los Angeles, California, 1987 by news anchors at TV station KTLA) it illustrates an important ideal of wordcraft. Getting people to practically feel what you’re trying to convey. In a revelatory article a few years ago in the New York Times, Wharton’s Jonah Berger shares insights from research he and others did that analyzed what made certain new words and phrases popular over time in contrast to others that faded from our consciousness and use. Among the conclusions: While there are always multiple ways to convey the same thing, the most successful expressions are those more sensory in nature. “Bright future” was more popular than “promising future.” “Sharp increase” more impactful than “sudden increase.” It turns out that sensory metaphors are more successful because they are more memorable. This insight should be paired with our last recommendation…
- TAKE THE SOUND AND MEANING OF AN EXISTING WORD AND “EXTREMIFY” IT.
- Scrumiddlyumptious. (Hey, it’s officially a word in the Oxford English Dictonary!)
- Titterosity. The kind of news covered by the likes of TMZ.
- And a favorite from my personal collection: Craptacular, meaning spectacular but in a very, very bad way.
If you reflect on the above you’ll see that, in many cases, people are not making up words “from scratch,” but rather “re-neologizing.” (Verb. Origin U.S., 2020, Marsha Lindsay, defined as taking an existing word or expression and building up on it to create new meaning.) As cultural anthropologists explain, since the beginning of time everyone’s ancestors have been taking terms from food, fashion, news and more, then mixing and morphing them to apply to new things. This means word creation, as suggested by the “how-to” above, is in your very DNA.
So get going. And don’t hold back. The more ideas you have, the better your odds of having good ones that resonate, serving others at just the time that new ways of expression are needed to communicate, makes sense of the world, cope, laugh, soldier on.
What are you waiting for? “Get the ball rolling” (Idiom. 1840 from world of Croquet) with these three steps:
- Consider: What insight is at the edge of your consciousness that, the meaning of which, i you could form it with a fresh expression, could enlighten and benefit others?
- Using the above “how-to” along with hacks from part one of this series, brainstorm sounds and sensory expressions, combining them with existing words or word-parts to express it. Aim for new words and idioms that are efficient in their conveyance of meaning, because in our busy lives we all want “definitionficiency!” (Verb. Origin U.S., 2012, Marsha Lindsay).
- Then, literally and figuratively, get the word out on your social network, in articles or emails you write, used in phone calls and at the dinner table. Repeat its use in a sort of test to validate its resonance, usefulness, levity or universality.
And above all, remember what society, science, my professional practice and your own experience confirm: Words shape thoughts and moral judgements; inspire understanding, compassion and hope, better health. Any new words and idioms that capture insight and feeling right now can be a simple but powerful gift you give to others when they really need it; a gift that keeps on giving.
Encourage others to create new expressions that are a match for these trying times: Just pass on this “why and how-to” article. And to further inspire others, post your ideas below. Not just an idea from today or next week. But one a month from now. Another the month after that. And the month after. After all, words have meaning. And in the trajectory of that meaning — how it changes and morphs over time — we’ll find some of the first inklings of recovery.
Recovery? What a great word. I wonder who came up with it? (Origin, Middle-English. Regaining something lost or stolen, be it health, consciousness, balance, control, composure, success.)