Tuesday, July 20, 2010


"Refudiate," "misunderestimate," "wee-wee'd up." English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!

The above comment is a tweet posted by Sarah Palin on July 18, 2010.

Did she apologize for using a word that doesn't exist? No. Instead she compared herself to Shakespeare.

This really bothers me. Yes, it's true that English is a living language, but it evolves naturally or purposely, not because someone makes a mistake. When you use a word incorrectly, and do not realize it until someone points it out, I don't believe you are advancing the English language. Obviously, I'm not the only one as #Shakespalin has been a popular hashtag topic on Twitter.

However, if you intentionally make up new words, as Shakespeare did, then you are innovative, original, and intelligent.

In the 1980s, comedian Rich Hall on an HBO show called Not Necessarily the News, invented new words all the time. He called them Sniglets. These were not accidents or mistakes, but thoughtful, funny, non-existent words that made people laugh (and think):

Here are a few Sniglets from the website Sniglets:
  • Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.
  • Dopeler effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly.
  • Nerb n. a noun used as a verb. For example: They didn't language the proclamation very well. nerb, nerbing, nerbed v. the act of using nouns as verbs in a sentence.
  • Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it.
Actually, when used properly, new words can have great educational value: In a 1990 interview, Rich Hall was asked if the "Sniglets books [were] completely for comic value?" This is his reply:

Yeah. Well, no. I wouldn't say they're completely for comic value. I mean, I get letters from schools all the time saying how they've incorporated a sniglet book into their reading program. You can look at a lot of the words and sort of break them down into their etymological origins. And you can learn a lot about how and where words derive from. When you assign this frailty of human nature a word, then the word has to work. It has to either be a hybrid of several other words, or have a Latin origin, or something.
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