Friday, 3 April 2009


My old friend and colleague Caroline mentioned me on her blog today. How flattering to be blogged about, and how appallingly self-referential and vain for me to link to it from here. She challenged me to “plant a new word into the ether and see how long it took to become part of everyday speech”. A tall order, if only because it’s not easy to think of a word that hasn’t already been invented, though it’s true all sorts of invented words have caught on in the past. And it’s clearly a popular pastime.

Nothing wrong with inventing words, or even casting them upon the waters in the hope of seeing them wash up like a message in a bottle, a bad penny or a badly mixed metaphor in a battered cocktail shaker from the saloon bar of a sunken liner. If they really catch on they will end up being recorded in dictionaries. But I’ll never get used to the idea that so many people seem to have, that word a can be added to “The Dictionary” as a stunt, or a favour, or in response to popular demand. People actually address petitions to dictionary-makers begging for a place for their dubious creations. Unsuccessfully of course.

Usually dictionary-makers are right to be cautious in adding new words that may be a flash in the pan; it’s traditionally considered better to commit the sins of omission than those of commission, though in recent years a more careless attitude has crept in in the desperate craving for press attention and the impression of being more up to the minute than your competitors.

After all, who would have thought something as random as “blog” would catch on?

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