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The Fake Word

April 19, 2015
If Lewis Carroll can make up “vorpal,” “brillig,” and “uffish,” then I can make up words like… (image via wikimedia)

If Lewis Carroll can make up “vorpal,” “brillig,” and “uffish,” then I can make up words like… (image via wikimedia)

I accidentally created a fake word a few days ago.  It happened because of my new boss, a younger Ivy League guy who likes to talk a lot and think of new acronyms for old ideas.   Anyway, after a meeting, I was ticked off and quietly muttered to a co-worker who (I hope) agrees with me:

“This new guy is way too damnbitious.”

I had meant to say “too damn ambitious” but I ran the words together.  It was an accident.

“You came up with a new word,” my co-worker said.  “If he fires you for complaining, at least you have that.”

I don’t like new words, especially if they’re fake.  The English language has enough words, so many that we don’t need many fake ones.  Last year, I used the fake word “nit-prickety” in a blog post about The Great Gatsby .  “Nit-prickety” is a combination of being nit-picky and a prick.  I don’t like being either, but sometimes I feel like I’m both, and that’s how I felt when I was writing about The Great Gatsby.  It wasn’t F. Scott Fitzgerald’s fault; it was mine.  Anyway, I liked the sound of “nit-prickety” the first time I used it, but I haven’t used it since.

After my verbal slip-up a few days ago, I couldn’t believe that I would be the first person to say or think of “dambitious,” so I checked online and found several versions of dambition/damnbitious already in use.  I was a little disappointed because there was a part of me that was proud to have created something new, even if it was a fake word.

It makes sense that somebody else thought of it first because I’m usually a few years behind the trends.  I started watching Game of Thrones last summer after season 4 was already done.  I started using Twitter a few months before that.  I didn’t start blogging until four years ago.  I’ll probably start making YouTube videos in a couple years when it won’t matter anymore.  I still rent DVDs.  The way things are going, I won’t start streaming movies for another five years.

I’m glad I found out ahead of time that I wasn’t the first person to think of “dambitious.”  As litigious as people are nowadays, somebody else would have accused me of stealing the word and sued me.  I would have felt guilty, even if I hadn’t officially “stolen” the word.  I could understand the creator of “damnbitious” for being protective.  It’s nearly impossible to think of original stuff anymore.  A lot of people have original thoughts, but now with the internet we can easily find out if somebody else had that same original thought before we did.

I haven’t found proof that anybody else has used “nit-prickety” yet.  Maybe that one is original.  Or maybe it’s so stupid that the millions of people who thought of it first didn’t want to claim it.  I’d hate to be the guy who claims the bad idea that millions others have thought of first but discarded.  That’s embarrassing.

Sometimes fake words can have a good purpose.  Lewis Carroll used a lot of fake words, especially in “Jabborwocky.”  When I was in high school, the fake words confused us students so much that we were certain Lewis Carroll had been high when he wrote Jabberwocky.  Those fake words like “vorpal” or “brillig” are useful because they confuse kids, and kids should be confused as much as possible.  It keeps them from thinking that they know everything.

A few weeks ago when my daughter rolled her eyes at me like I was an idiot, I just said, “You don’t even know what ‘vorpal’ means.”  That shut her up (and made her keep her eyes in one place).

Even if I don’t like most fake words, I appreciate new words for old concepts that English doesn’t have a word for yet.  For example, the Japanese language has the word “tsundoku” which means the act of buying books and not finishing them, letting them pile up until they take up the whole house.  Maybe English should have a word for that.  But why create a new word in English when the Japanese already have one?  The English language can simply adopt the word.  For example: “I just tsondokued the guest room in my house.”

Yeah, that sounds like a fake word (and kind of vulgar), but that’s never stopped a word from becoming part of the lexicon before.   Right now, nobody knows what “tsondoku” means, but we bibliophiles love knowing novelty words, especially words that apply to us.  We can proudly declare ourselves as “tsundokus,” and nobody will know what we mean at first.  It can be our smug code word until it becomes so popular that it is used widely in English.  Then, in a few generations, “tsundoku” (or some form of it) will be so familiar that English speakers will forget that the word even originated in Japan.

Stealing a word from another language is much better than making up unnecessary fake words.    Now that I’ve stolen a word from another language and created a couple fake words, it’s time for me to think of an acronym for my boss.  If I’m lucky, it will spell out a real word and not a fake one.  Acronyms that spell out fake words are the worst.


But enough about me!  Have you ever accidentally (or intentionally) created a fake word?   What other concepts does English NOT have a word for?  Have you ever created an acronym?  What trends are you behind on?  When your kid talks back, what’s your best comeback line?

  1. ahh I thought that I had invented the word “festiny” but having just googled it, am disappointed to announce that not only has it already been done, its also the name of a porn star. so there.. A few years ago my friend Nicole and I were feeling inspired and were thinking up a name which was a hybrid of both our names and she came up with “Azole”. (Az plus Nicole). and I like to think that the Hipster Business Model is an original concept.. just checked – someone beat me to it. doh!

  2. My colleague and I thought she had come up with volunforced, something that occurs in our office a fair bit. Unfortunately, it has also been previously created. We like the word and while it is against our nature to use made up words, we are using it – maybe because we are being volunforced now that we told the rest of the office.

    • If you get volunforced too often, you can complain about being too voluntired from being volunforced so frequently.

      But if you complain about being voluntired, you might get volunfired, and that’s not good either.

      Jobs are complicated. I guess that’s why they have to pay us.

  3. “Have you ever accidentally (or intentionally) created a fake word? What other concepts does English NOT have a word for?”

    For online use I once created “lifemate” as an umbrella word for husband, wife or gay partner. After some members had asked where I had got that from (actually, it was a literal translation of German “lebenspartner”), its usage quickly spread in that forum.

  4. sincerelythenorm permalink

    Inventing words can be a blast as long as they are words that appear has words. It shows creativity even in the strangest situations.

  5. some years ago I Made up the words “Beereft” – to be without beer & “Beereved” – to have lost your beer.

    • “Beereft” is pretty good, but it’s probably tough to say if you’re drunk. Or maybe it’s easier. Was it created during a moment of inebriation?

      I’m not judging.

  6. “kids should be confused as much as possible. It keeps them from thinking that they know everything.” I love this post!! 😀

    There is this awesome blog post from Anjana Iyer

    It is called “Found in translation” If you are looking for more untranslatable words 🙂

    • Thanks. There were some great examples. The first one made me laugh out loud.

      I hope I’m not setting up anybody’s expectations too high. Now that I’ve said that I laughed, other people might not think it’s funny.

  7. “Nit-prickety” was good one. 🙂

  8. abishta permalink

    Reblogged this on Discovering Abishta.

  9. getuliogregori permalink

    Reblogged this on Fonte da arte.

  10. A new company has partnered up/taken over my current employer. Next week, I am receiving a “review” from the new guys. I have coined the term “pinterview” meaning “pity interview”. Not feeling the odds in my favor, but we shall see:)….

  11. If my kids talk back to me, I can still shut them up with “hey, you haven’t even been born yet!”

    • I guess it’s too late for me to use that one with my own daughters, but… does it work?

      • It doesn’t for now, and when it no longer does, I’ll have about a year more to shut them up with “Hey, you can’t even talk yet!”
        This could give me enough time to come up with new lines.

  12. luminousredhead permalink

    Hahahaha I love this post! I make up words and phrases all the time. A few summers ago while at a bar, I asked my friend to “man-guard” my beer as I went to the bathroom. She knew what I meant but the two guys with us had the most confused expression on their faces. I came back from the bathroom and they had to ask, “how does one ‘man-guard’ beers?” And I replied, “you know? man guarding the beer so that no one takes them?” (In my head, I picture a huge man with big muscles standing in front of the beer with his arms crossed and a stern ‘do not fuck with me’ look on his face.) So moral of the story: it isn’t ‘guarding’, it’s ‘man-guarding’ you want when you don’t want anyone to fuck with your stuff.

    • Does man-guard only apply to a woman who is guarding something? I’m a man, so if I guard something, am I automatically man-guarding, or do I have to guard it in the way you described (which actually makes sense to me)? Can a man woman-guard something? “Girl-guarding” sounds better because of the alliteration, but women might think “girl” has a negative connotation.

      Wow! This whole concept of man-guarding and its gender implications could lead to a whole new article

  13. Fake words are a specialty with me. I think I coined crankenstein (which is what I turn into when I’m really upset), deside (as in removing corners of a bread slice), and pethos (sympathy for your pet) when I was ten or eleven!

    And I loved “kids should be confused as much as possible. It keeps them from thinking that they know everything.”

    • The term “Crankenstein” got stuck in my head this morning before I had my coffee. I knew I was being one, but after a couple cups, the feeling went away.

  14. Years ago my husband and I created a word for the two creases that are below your nose at the middle of your upper lip. Still haven’t found a real name for that yet. Not sharing for dibs purposes.

  15. Your word is known as a portmanteau, and they can be a lot of fun. A friend sent me this on the weekend:
    The occasion was the following: celebrities in French Quebec are referred to as vedettes. But if you’re English in Quebec, chances are you don’t watch French television or movies at all, so you have no idea who is on the covers of the tabloids at the supermarket. You have a vedeficit.
    For one of my audio pieces, I created a drug for permanent smiling called Rictusol. If you Google Rictusol, there are only 30 results. It’s so satisfying! You should Google “nit-prickety.”

    • Thanks. I should have known there was a word for it, but I didn’t. Another astonishing gap in my knowledge has been filled.

      I Googled “nit-prickety” and only got a couple posts from Dysfunctional Literacy. I guess I created a… portmanteau… after all. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

  16. Just thought I should say this: I really enjoy your posts!
    And I know! It’s hard to come up with something new nowadays. Be it an invention or a solution to something. There’s something for everything already! Sigh.. Good comeback by the way, haha!

  17. Reblogged this on for love and napo and commented:
    I’m not creative enough to come up with words, but I can relate to this article. Can you?
    David and I were having a similar conversation earlier: many of the things one comes up with have already been invented or patented or have always existed but we didn’t know, etc. And it kind of sucks. Or someone creates something simple and you’re like “What?? I could’ve made that myself!”
    Anyway, enjoy this read!
    – diana

  18. Awesome post man.! Fake words get created from time to time whether “accidentally or intentionally”, mostly to describe two or more situations/relations/people together. One of the hilarious examples can be taken from “Big Bang Theory’s” Shamy(Sheldon+Amy).

  19. themonkseal permalink

    Reblogged this on themonkseal.

  20. René Otero permalink

    You have talent, definitely. Good luck.

  21. Reblogged this on thedealis and commented:
    I love this post. I have a word I made up. “Digitators”. Digital dictators. It refers to the various electronic devices that run my day (smartphone, tablet, etc.)…It all starts with that alarm in the morning…

  22. Does my Gender Stasi count? It is allegedly the natural enemy of the Grammar Nazi.

  23. In the corporate world, I have heard the monstrosity, “gaintain” enough times that the nauseating effect has begun to diminish, though my hatred of has not diminished in the least. To borrow a phrase from a friend of mine, “I get up two hours early so I have extra time for hating it.”

    • Another word that I created describes my wife and me:

      TECHNOSAUR: fossil of human shape that has no idea which button to press on a smartphone, does not see any advantage of a blu-ray over a VHS cassette and cries for the kids to help when the wi-fi fails to connect.

    • Ugh. I’m glad I haven’t heard that one yet at work, and I have a lot of co-workers who would think that was a good word.

      • By “that,” I mean “gaintain.”

        I can deal with “technosaur.” There are times (especially in the late 1990s and early 2000s) when I would have been considered a “technosaur.”

  24. krizteeyn permalink

    well…”fanidiot.” I was trying to insult a friend and her idiocy was just beyond words so i wanted to say, you are a fantastic idiot and i ended up saying you are a “fanidiot”

  25. krizteeyn permalink

    there is something really weird about this post. I got bored out of my mind at a point. I literally started having a headache but i couldn’t stop myself from going on. A lot of literature works lack that. You are amazing though.

    • Ha ha! You’re not the first person to say my writing gives them a headache. I probably didn’t need two paragraphs about tsundokus, though. Thank you for making it through the whole thing!

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