The Difficulty of Inventing Words

Published June 7, 2016 by Iphis of Scyros

Not making up new words in the Lewis Carroll sense (or even in the Robert Heinlein sense), but in a more methodical, if still silly, way.  It’s much harder than I expected.

But let me back up a minute and explain why I’m trying to invent a word.

I’ve been working on my current novel project, which I’ve mentioned several times before.  (Like, cycle through the “Writer’s Corner” category posts, and most of the recent ones will be about it.)

In order to make the story interesting (I hope) and to have things actually happen (gasp!), I’m having to put my narrator through a number of events he finds unpleasant and humiliating.  (But that’s okay, because he’s abrasive, arrogant and sometimes a bit annoying.  So I don’t mind making him suffer a bit.)  I just wrote the conclusion of the first of those events, or rather the first major one.

Said event being that he was forced to pose nude for the faculty of the art department at the college where he teaches Greek (and sometimes Latin).  Why he had no choice but to pose naked for the (mostly female) art teachers is a bit of a long, convoluted and frankly ridiculous story that I don’t want to get into right now.  (But he’s  a side character (though he doesn’t know it) for a (made up) romantic comedy movie (a bad one), so it’s okay that the side plot of the novel (which is the main plot of the movie) is absurd.)

Anyway, after suffering a number of humiliations during the posing process, this happens:

            “Okay, next can you get down on all fours, head hanging down, as if you’ve just been defeated in something of dreadful importance?” Callie asked.

“**** no!” I replied.  I don’t get in that pose lightly, and not where just anyone can see me.  Especially while naked.

He’s got a hair-trigger temper, and this sets him off, all the more so because Callie accuses him of being immature, and then tries to sweet-talk him, despite that she’s in her 60s and dresses like a flower child (despite that, this being the 1980s, she was too old for that even during the 1960s).  So he’s ready to storm out in a huff and go home to sulk and fume, or at least get drunk.  (He does a lot of the latter…)

But he’s still naked, so he can’t just stomp out of the room.  (Especially since it’s mid-February, and though I don’t say where his college is located, in his original incarnation, several novels ago, he lived in Detroit, so Februaries would be pretty cold.  (I even looked up what that particular week’s weather was like in Detroit in 1982.  Very cold indeed.))

So then I wrote this:

            It’s hard to find a good word to describe getting dressed angrily.  Most verbs that address furied motion tend to be verbs of stripping away or of movement.  So I’m going to invent a word now.  Apologies to those who believe in the purity of the language.  The word means “to throw oneself into a piece of clothing with the rage of a thousand angry suns.”

I was pretty pleased with that paragraph, until it hit me.

Because suddenly I had to actually invent that word he just said he was going to invent!

I could have tried to just make up a nonsense sound that sounded angry, but…that didn’t feel like what he would do.  Especially given the fact that he’s a Greek teacher and obsessed with the Iliad.  He’d put together a word out of Greek roots.

But my Greek is beyond rusty into ludicrously lost.  (I mean, I remember the alphabet.  And a couple of words here and there.  But…yeah, mostly gone.  And I was never really all that good at it anyway.)

So I was using the “English to (language) look-up” feature on the Advanced Search page at the Perseus Project.  And I looked up a lot of the words I needed, picking out a few of the results that looked like I might be able to combine them into a word that wouldn’t be too ludicrously long.  The list I made was this:

thuo (rage)
menin (wrath, first word of iliad)
esthesis (clothing)
esthes (clothing)
sagma (clothing)
stolisis (clothing)
heileo (sun)
heliao (to be like the sun)
chilioi (thousand)
akroboleo (throw)
amphiballo (throw)
ballo (throw)
bole (throw)
emballo (throw in)

Obviously, I stopped the “throw” list when I got to “throw in” since that fit so nicely.  (Oh, and in transliterating the words, I didn’t bother differentiating between long and short vowels, nor with accent marks, apart from the breathing mark indicating if a word started with an “h” or not.)

The word I assembled out of these was the improbable “to emballomenesthize” which completely fails as a word, and doesn’t even sound the slightest bit filled with rage.  And it left out the “thousand angry suns” part.  And it probably misuses one or more of the Greek words I picked out to be its roots.

So it’s kind of a disaster of an invented word, even one that’s only being invented for humorous purposes.

I welcome any suggestions on how to improve it.

(Also, if anyone has any suggestions on what the interior decorating would look like in the 1982 apartment of a man who doesn’t know he’s gay, please let me know.  I’m currently stuck on that description.  All I’ve written is his magnificent kitchen (his hobby is cooking) and I have zero clue what else is in his apartment.  Other than, like, a TV and a couch.  ‘Cause you can’t not have those.  (Especially since the scene in question requires putting a movie in the VCR.)  But I don’t know what the couch looks like.  (The TV I have a better idea what it looks like, because there aren’t many options.)  Oh, he’s also got a dining room table.  Of some variety.  ‘Cause where else would he eat the fancy food he cooks?  And obviously there’s a bed in the bedroom…but that’s still pretty vague.)

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