Making Up Words

I love words. Working with them, sharing my thoughts through them with others, receiving ideas and inspiration from others through them. Words are powerful. And I have to confess that, because I love words, I sometimes think I have to protect them. That is, I will admit that from time to time I get frustrated by made-up words, by what is often called a neologism (literally, “a new word”).

For instance, and taking an example from my own line of work, I kind of despise the word “missional.” Even though I often use it. But it bothers me. There’s an inelegance to “missional,” I would argue, that is unnecessary and unhelpful, so why not find other ways to say what we want? Even more, I dislike turning nouns into verbs, especially by adding “ize” to the end. “Utilize” provides a great example. Utility+ize = ? That is, how is “utilize” different from “use” except that it makes it sound more impressive, or at least like the speaker wants to sound more impressive. If you need to make “use” more impressive, I think, try “make use of” and at least you’ll stick to words we already have.

Well, you get the picture. And given this, you might think I would completely object to lexicographer Erin McKean’s 7-minute TED Talk encouraging kids to make up words. But…instead I found it delightful, engaging, and thought-provoking about the necessity and opportunity to keep playing with words in order to express ourselves adequately.

I’m still not totally sold on missional and utilize, mind you, but perhaps after listening to Erin you can help me see the light. ☺

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