Friday, April 15, 2016

Why English Words Are So Inventable

If there's one thing I love more than anything about the English language, it's its flexibility. While English is a Germanic language, a lot of its vocabulary comes from Latin and French. Furthermore, thanks to its history, it has borrowed plenty of words from languages all over the word and never thought about giving them back.

Aside from all that, English can be pretty chill when it comes to its rules. Many English speakers like to bend the rules, and sometimes when they break them completely it doesn't even matter (as long as you're not in the company of prescriptivists).

There are as many possibilities for English words as there are
stars in the sky.
However, today I want to talk about lexical flexibility, the ways new English words are invented, and how you can invent them yourself. Of course, other languages invent new words all the time too, but it's the ways in which English does it that I'll be focusing on today.

Those in the UK might remember the story of bouncebackability, a word that described a sport team's capacity to recover from a losing position or setback. The word's first use was attributed to Iain Dowie, former manager of the Crystal Palace football team. While he is believed to have just invented the word on the spot, if you're familiar with the English language and some of our lexical tropes, you can immediately work out its meaning.

I love these kinds of examples of English being used to its full potential. That's why today I thought I'd look at a few of the ways you can invent your own English words and still be understood.

Suffixing and Prefixing

Adding a suffix to a preexisting word is one of the best ways to create new words. The suffix -ise (and -ize in American English) is used to mean "render" or "make". For example, veganise would mean to make something vegan. You can also add the -y suffix to indicate that something has a certain quality. Even if the adjective doesn't exist, you can always create one by adding -y to the end of any noun.

Prefixes can work the same way. You can add prefixes like anti-, un-, in-, and im- to create negatives, or pre- or post- to mean "before" and "after", for example.


You can also create new verbs from nouns by treating them like regular English verbs. The most famous recent example is probably the verb to google. It may seem commonplace now, but you should remember that this is a relatively recent idea that only gained traction in the last decade.


Creating a portmanteau is also another way English likes to create new words. For example, you can put together fare and forecasting to make farecasting, the act of predicting the best time to buy plane tickets.

Some of my favourite modern examples are those for male beauty products, procedures, and cosmetics. Words like guyliner (a combination of guy and eyeliner), manscara (from man and mascara), and manscaping (from man and landscaping, which refers to how a male can trim or remove his hair or improve aesthetics).


Of course, you can also just put two words together, like awesome and sauce to make awesomesauce. The possibilities are endless!

What are some of your favourite neologisms that have come about from these kind of behaviours? Tell us about them in the comments below.

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