Invented words: 'Twas brillig and the slithy toves...'

Sep 29, 2010

Last night, Susan Butler joined Robbie Buck on ABC702 to discuss matters of new words, and the difficulties faced upon trying to get invented words recognised and used as part of the language. Here's what she had to say:

New words are actually quite difficult to invent. Successful ones, that is.

There are people who have a reputation for making up words -- James Joyce and Lewis Carroll to name a couple. But very few of their inventions have become part of the language. Mostly they are individual  inventions where we enjoy the sound and have our own feeling about what the words might mean. The reason that we can guess at the meanings is largely because we are anchored by syntax.

*For example:

Twas brillig and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe.

We know from the position in the sentence that brillig is something like morning or afteroon, slithy is an adjective, a tove is an animal of some kind? To gyre and to gimble are both verbs and we can get a sense from the sound. Gimble is a bit like gambol.The wabe is perhaps like the lawn, meadow, or field, or perhaps it is wet -- the waves, the sea, the lake?

What do you think these lines mean?

Has anyone made up a successful word? It might just be a word used in your family. What is it? How did it happen?

(*From Carroll's' poem The Jabberwocky. Read the full poem The Jabberwocky | Lewis Carroll)

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