June 5, 2012

"52 percent of the English lexicon.... consists of lexical ‘dark matter’ undocumented in standard references."

Should we just go ahead and make words up? Or does the notinthedictionary problem stop you?

38 comments:

edutcher said...

One of The Blonde's favorite terms is, "flustrate".

Never sure exactly what she's mad about (this time). Or is she just upset?

This is another result of the lousy state of American education. Kids have no real command of the language, so they make it up as they go along. One good thing about an established lexicon is that everybody knows what everybody else is saying.

Scott M said...

Or does the notinthedictionary problem stop you?

Irregardless, the Boomers taught us if it feels good do it, so if it sounds good...say it. It's everyone ELSE'S problem if they can't understand YOU.

Hagar said...

Irregardless - screeeech!

chickelit said...

"And the Word became Flesh"

Lots of DNA is unaccounted for, too. Doesn't mean it's junk or without historical value.

Patrick said...

I think you may be misunderestimating how serious the problem is.

Scott M said...

Irregardless - screeeech!

Shh, Hagar, or you'll ruin the subtlety.

Synova said...

I make up words all the time. If I need a word and there doesn't seem to be a word, then a word must be made.

Simple.

traditionalguy said...

Sarah Palin's auxiliary vocabulary is in need of updating. It arises best under pressure.

Other than that, I have heard about everything. OK, not some of the spelling bee pitfall words.



Maybe President Romney will add a few Mormon words out of Temple lore. He also speaks French, which makes him a part Frank, and therefore his ancestors were likely from Bohemia or Moravia. So I hope President Romneyski does not add too many words ending in ski.

Paddy O said...

I think making words up is one the best parts about the English language.

Words have to start somewhere, after all.

Synova said...

Misusing an existing word is a legitimate problem. I'm sure I do so often enough, but I use the dictionary a lot, too.

rhhardin said...

"Undocumented in standard references" is from the verb "to undocument."

LincolnTf said...

If I had a dime for every time an otherwise well-spoken person used "flaunted" instead of "flouted" I'd have a cellar like Scrooge McDuck's. Happens on TV all the time and on blogs every day.

Rob said...

This is easily misunderstood. The researchers found that in 2000, for example, there were approximately one million words in use in English in the sample they studied. Only a fraction of those words was in dictionaries. But most of the words not in dictionaries are highly specialized terms or proper nouns and are used only very rarely. So perhaps 52% of the lexicon is not in the dictionary, but obviously the vast majority of words in printed books are in the dictionary.

n.n said...

If we can have multiple official languages, then we can certainly accommodate an unofficial set consisting of daily contrived musings (e.g. "urban dictionary"). Clearly not everyone perceives the same value in language. Some people consider it not as a utility but as an outlet for creative or political expression.

Blue@9 said...

I have no issue with this. Language is about communication, and the only real test of a word's viability is whether it's understood by both the speaker and the listener.

Scott M said...

Language is about communication, and the only real test of a word's viability is whether it's understood by both the speaker and the listener.

Can a spoken word convey meaning if no one hears it?

Balfegor said...

re: edutcher:

This is another result of the lousy state of American education. Kids have no real command of the language, so they make it up as they go along.

Well, they will always do that. I don't really care what happens in the casual register, so long as access to the formal register of English is preserved. Otherwise, we'll run into the same problem we had with Law French, and before that, with Latin. We have all kinds of problems with our law losing legitimacy because it's locked away behind layers of specialist language and an impenetrable thicket of intelocking statutes and court cases. But all that becomes even worse if the common man cannot even read the underlying statutes and opinions because the language is too remote from his own tongue. It's a kind of disenfranchisement that our schools need to work harder to overcome.

Synova said...

"Only a fraction of those words was in dictionaries. But most of the words not in dictionaries are highly specialized terms or proper nouns and are used only very rarely."

My spell check fails me often. I mean.. deorbit. How is deorbit not in the spell check? Hm?

Eventually I'll have to reorbit something, and I don't expect that to go over any better.

Anthony said...

Like this?

Shanna said...

I think making words up is one the best parts about the English language.

Indeed. Especially if it makes someone laugh.

English is quite malleable. We have been inventing and borrowing words throughout our history...why stop now?

Voltimand said...

Oh, please. Anybody who's taken a respectable intro linguistics course in college knows that the history of English (and every other language) evolves by the expansion of the semantic repertoire of a living language (one that is spoken by a critical linguistically homogenous population) by way of variations on traditional words. So they aren't in a lexicon published in the year "X." That's because--ready for this?--as all lexicographers know, their dictionaries start on the road to obsolescence the moment they are published. E.g. (lookitup) modern English is an amalgam of two totally distinct languages: Anglo-Saxon (read: a variant of German) and French (read: a variant of French). By the time of Shakespeare, i.e., late 16th century, "modern English" was already substantially formed. Read Chaucer for a comparison. where the French is out there for all to see.

paul a'barge said...

Ask yourself this: what did Shakespeare do?

Hint: he went ahead and made the words up.

ampersand said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ampersand said...

One always reads that there is no English word for schadenfreude. I wish someone would make one up,so I wouldn't have to read the disclaimer all the time. Try to make it rhyme with orange, thus killing two birds with one stone.

Scott M said...

One always reads that there is no English word for schadenfreude. I wish someone would make one up

damagehappy.

raf said...

...there is no English word for schadenfreude.

By now, I would say schadenfreude is an English word. Especially if it is pronounced 'shadnfroid.'

Balfegor said...

re: Voltimand:

So they aren't in a lexicon published in the year "X." That's because--ready for this?--as all lexicographers know, their dictionaries start on the road to obsolescence the moment they are published.

That's really only half the story, if that. There's a large amount of vocabulary that isn't new vocabulary at all -- it's just such specialised jargon or from such a narrow patois that it's never made it into a dictionary at all.

re: raf:

By now, I would say schadenfreude is an English word. Especially if it is pronounced 'shadnfroid.'

Oh come now. All true-born Americans pronounce schadenfreude like the coathanger Nazi from Indiana Jones. It's the whole point of the word.

BarryD said...

The authors of dictionaries tried to capture the words used by speakers of various languages. The dictionary has never created a language.

Lucien said...

I thought the second meaning given for "phomance" was just a misspelling of "fauxmance", though I suppose both ar equally cromulent.

Is imitation Vietnamese noodle soup fauxpho, or is that so frouh-frouh as to be a no-go?

ricpic said...

There are perfectly good words that are never used. The negative, feckless, is used frequently; the positive, feck, never. Instead of "What a feckless act," how about "What a full of feck act to take?"

rehajm said...

Should we just make words up? You betcha! How do you think all those words got in the dictionary in the first place?

So have at it- except in Scrabble...er...except in Scrabble when you won't get away with it.

Balfegor said...

Re:ricpic:

There are perfectly good words that are never used. The negative, feckless, is used frequently; the positive, feck, never. Instead of "What a feckless act," how about "What a full of feck act to take?"

I have always wanted an excuse to use the backformation "gorm."

Synova said...

re: feckless and feck

I've come across similar things when reading older novels, though I can't think of the example I'm thinking of. It will come to me in a week or so, no doubt.

Mostly usage changes, sometimes so that modern usage is the opposite.

Such as, when one of Georgette Heyer's heroines says, "I doubt he'll be here directly," it means she's *certain* that he'll be there directly. Or "hard" will be used primarily to mean "uncaring", and "hardly" will mean "said in an uncaring way." We use hardly to mean "don't" most of the time. "I hardly expect blah blah blah..."

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

edutcher,

Re: "flustrate," interesting. My husband has dubbed the state in which I panic and overreact to some trivial problem (a dropped pan, a piece of clothing I can't find when we need to get out the door pronto to some event, &c.) a "flustrum." A very useful word chez Thomson.

I coined "Czechoiserie" in a review once, to describe what a particular underplayed Dvorak string quartet doesn't have.

Anyone who frequents the likes of Cute Overload (OK, I like cute pet photos, so sue me) will have run across "redonkulous" and "anerable." "Ginormous" is almost ready for its standard-dictionary debut, I'd say.

Look, playing with language is fun, and English is certainly the language to do it in. This language has the absolute mongreliest (see what I did there?) pedigree on the planet.

wv: Markon 10. Either a sinister plot to blow up something, or a new deodorant.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Synova,

Such as, when one of Georgette Heyer's heroines says, "I doubt he'll be here directly," it means she's *certain* that he'll be there directly.

I think that one is specifically Scots. At least, I've never seen a writer put in the mouth of anyone not Scottish. It's very confusing on first acquaintance.

The other auto-antonyms (OK, I just made that up, but it's clear enough, I think) are much easier to figure out from context. If someone uses "cleave," it's generally obvious whether s/he means "cling to" or "sever from."

Michael Chamberlain said...

Sooterkin. Absquatulate. Monstracious. Oh, how we miss you!

Michael Chamberlain said...

Sooterkin. Absquatulate. Monstracious. Oh, how we miss you!

Synova said...

I like my nook... I can look up words as I read. Unfortunately that helps me know what a valetudinarian is but doesn't help much with "I'll pay you a monkey..."