Minting words towards lexical innovation

Dictionary and red underlines in word processors need not always dictate what you want to say. Making up your own words is an act of creative rebellion. If you prefer to sound it intellectual, call it an exercise in neologism. The game, inventing words, can teach simple etymology to advanced disciplinary vocabulary.

Here are a few possible approaches to neologism from kindergarten to research classes. Most test preparation sources teach about etymology as a memory tool to aid in competitive examinations. Teaching the history of words and their connections to related words is only one step in vocabulary building.

Etymology and neology can coexist, as etymology is the back-formation of neology. Instead of merely remaining as a consumer of modern-day neologisms replete in the internet, our students can create them. Inventing words force the students to read, write, listen, speak and think in different ways than the ordinary. It transcends disciplines. For example, it will be equally interesting for a fashion technology student and a wannabe writer that word ‘textile’ and ‘text’ have the same origin from ‘textere’” which meant ‘to weave’. Weaving words has an interesting history.

India has a unique tradition of making a dictionary in the form of poetry. Amarakosha, one of the oldest dictionary-cum-thesauruses, is a highly useful construction, where meaning and synonyms are presented in verses. Then came Peter Roget. Now it is your turn for crafting.

Tools and approaches

Word-crafting is an art. While traditional techniques like word unscrambling and crossword familiarise the learner with existing words and increase recall rates, their use is limited for neologism. If the meaning of the new word is evident intuitively, better the word is. Thus you know intuitively, what is meant by ‘during reading hours many students will ‘digippear’ into WhatsApp or Facebook, instead of cuddling a book’. Conventional linguists and new-age headline writers alike use a variety of techniques to create new words. They play mash-ups by linking words or adding prefixes and suffixes. They use unusual combinations, verbing (Google it), converting verbs into adjectives and truncating words (podcast). They plug and play with pieces of words plucked from other languages.

With variations, word spinning may take a general form in language classrooms and a domain-specific version in other subjects. Pacing the difficulty level and introducing additional tools like apps, selected text portions and thinking tools, it can be applied in any classroom. Here language development is not the objective, but a natural outcome.

There are four kinds of tools which may come handy in neologism learning context. First are traditional tools like dictionary, thesaurus and language activators. Instead of sidestepping such references, neologism prompts the learner to play permutations and combinations of words with these tools. Second are the specialised references like etymology references, collocation dictionaries, unusual word listings and domain-specific glossaries. These may vary depending on classes and subjects. Third, are digital tools. For example, word generator applications can enrich exercises. Fourth are sources of inspiration which may range from general newspapers to focused research reviews.

Advertisements, brands and campaigns continue to be a popular source of inspiration to neologism. But, veterans muse more on reading and use different thinking operations — something which we tend to overlook in the daily education process. If you are a serial word creator you may even create your own dictionary, a facility like Merriam-Webster’s Word Central, which can be created and checked online. If you are ready to amuse Google, try the translations of your new words in the new version of Google translator which uses neural machine translation system.

Another exercise for new words stems from sniglets. Popularised by comedian and writer, Rich Hall, a sniglet is any word that does not appear in the dictionary, but should. For example, if you jingle keys or coins in the pocket and do a pocket concert, you are doing a coinophony. The humorous nature of sniglets will put the student in the inventive gear of words; truly much beyond the conventional vocabulary building. For advanced classes, free online text analysis tools can be live demonstrations of new words and their usages in context. If you want to advance yet further, go for a corpus linguistics tool which does not need programming.

Inventive gear

Creative pedagogy of neologism makes the learners fearless to language and friendly with the red-underlines in word processors. They move from nonfident to confident and notice the cultural connections across disciplines. Students are provoked to challenge certain social conditioning of language and personality traits.

Word-inventing may be a part of teacherature, the literature on teaching. Not only the practicing educators, but also our teachergartens­—kindergarten for teachers, will find it useful. Our status-quo pedagogy in word learning is restrictive with ‘don’ts’ where a neologist approach leads to an unchartered terrain of words.

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