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Words and Sayings

New Words
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins

Who makes up the words that are in the dictionary?  Can I make up a word, or does it take lots of money, like when you buy someone a star?

There is no official registration for a word [in English] that you might wish to make up, as far as I know.  Words develop naturally out of the exchange as the general populace talk, and observers called "lexicographers" read and listen for new words.  But the one-time use or clever coining of a new word, unfortunately, does not get recorded.  So it depends on the broad usage across the language.

Words are established by media usage also, as newspapers and television begin to use new words, which are immediately heard all over the continent and world, and picked up by speakers at large.

It is the words that are found to be in general use that get recorded.  There are also fad words that develop in certain grade levels in school or in popular culture for periods of only a few years.

There do exist somewhat official academies (official committees, usually associated with an "academy" or university) for some languages.  These academies keep a more official list of words as well as grammar usages in the language.  This is the basis of "standardization," which really amounts to the maintenance of one somewhat artificial reference dialect of a language, which enables speakers of many varied forms of speech to more easily understand each other.

English does not have anything like this, despite being the most widely spoken language in the world, and having the largest vocabulary of any language, at over 800,000 words.  (You would think we already have enough words, wouldn't you?)

But language is an art, and one of the creative characteristcs of the art of English is a high value on the appearance of new words.  This parallels and reflects the modern Anglo-Saxon cultural value of new thoughts, new ideas, new insights, new approaches, new solutions

The observation and recording of new vocabulary in a language is a highly developed science.  For details on the categories and characteristics of vocabulary, you could run a search on lexicography.

Slang is similar to fad words, but persists longer and generally enters the general language but with specialized application.  Many new words come into being from technology, science and politics, and particularly as these are reported by the media, who make up words to refer to new events or patterns in politics or society, and have the power to spread them over the whole of the society quickly.  It is these words which often persist and become part of the general vocabulary.

The broad and flexible English language has remained highly unified over the last two centuries, and forms of the language spoken all over the world are, in fact, more similar now than at the time of the American revolution, according to historical linguists.  This is largely due to the high level of communication, trade and travel maintained across the whole English-speaking world.

Electronic and print communication, movies and television have helped the English-speaking peoples of the world stay connected as a broader culture group, maintaining a broad awareness of the varieties, which readily borrrow from each other.  New cultural developments in the English-language cultures, enhanced by a new awareness of non-English cultures around the world, add new words constantly.

Cultural Richness
Besides several hundred million native speakers around the world, English is spoken as a primary language by hundreds of millions of second-language speakers of English.  Much of the modern richness of English vocabulary has come into the broader world English stream from the words from their home languages and cultures that these speakers commonly use in their daily interaction.

For more about words and language usage, visit Ask Oxford, by the publishers of the Oxford English Dictionary, the greatest collection of words and their histories in the English language.  The full text of the OED is online, as a subscription service.

To learn the meaning, histories and usages of English words use the free online service,
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary.  Consider the Meriam-Webster word-of-the-day letter, which adds the cultural background of the daily word.

Also related:
[TXT] How Many Words?
[TXT] How Words Develop Multiple Meanings: How Word Meanings are Negotiated
[TXT] How Words Grow
[TXT] Word Mapping

First answered November 2000 on discussion forum WHQuestion
Expanded article posted on OJ Thoughts and Resources 19 October 2002
Last edited 20 November 2011

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD

Copyright © 2000, 2002 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for freedownload and transmission for personal or educational use.  Please give credit and link back.  Other rights reserved.

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