Friday, October 06, 2006

And now a word from . . .

… whoever coins a good one.

Periodically—okay, almost every day—I come across a discussion in one online forum or another in which a participant fulminates about the latest abomination some miscreant is trying to add to the English language and how they can’t do that because that just “isn’t a word.”

Invariably, someone with a cooler head (not necessarily me) points out that if English couldn’t accommodate new words, Beowulf would be a lot easier for us to read. So new words are a way of life for English-speakers. Nonetheless, not all neologisms survive. Editors, as a group, have a certain amount of influence; if a strong consensus develops among editors that a word is not a useful or entertaining addition to the language, the word tends not to appear in print very much; and without the reinforcement of print citations, it may quietly fade from use. If the consensus among editors tends to favor a new word, it is likely to persist. There is, in other words, at least some coupling between the language (what we speak) and the writing system (what we publish). And that loose coupling is, to some extent, mediated by editors.

Enough thumbsucking. What prompts this post is a discussion thread yesterday on the tech writers’ mailing list I belong to, basically a bitch session about words people hear at work but hate. I didn’t hate all the ones people offered. In fact, I rather liked a few.
  • updation—Yvette Denoga reported this one from the world of geekdom. She hates it. I think it has legs.
  • destinated—Keri Morgret reports this one from amateur radio (“ham radio”) jargon, and I see shows the term. “I’ve destinated” means I reached my destination. In the right context, it works.
  • encashinator—Sarah Bouchier claims coinage of this synonym for ATM. No hits on Google or Urban Dictionary yet; so props to Sarah.
  • incent—This comes to us from business jargon and has been around for a while. The American Heritage Usage Panel strongly discourages its use. I think it’s with us to stay, though; and I think it serves a purpose. You may disagree, of course.


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Anonymous said...

When would you say destinated instead of arrived? It seems a little like saying "I targeted" to mean "I hit the target".

Dick Margulis said...


I don't know that I would ever say it. But I would find it acceptable in informal dialogue among characters of the right generation. I can also seeing it developing a nuanced difference in meaning from arrived, perhaps being used for figurative arrival at a career goal. Or it could develop an entirely different meaning; on the analogy of the way targeted is actually used ("aimed at"), destinate could come to be used in for setting the destination of a Web link dynamically. Or it could just fade away. It's obviously too early to tell whether any of these scenarios will play out.

Anonymous said...

A TV news interviewee offered a refreshing change from "he was always so quiet": "He'd hermitized hisself."