I’ve probably confused the dickens out of my fellow speculative fiction writers with that title. Perhaps the rest of you as well. It does seem a bit redundant since, isn’t that what we’re all doing? Are we not making up stories?
Fortunately, I’m not talking about stories. I’m talking about words. You’d be surprised to find out how many words we take for granted that were actually made up by writers who didn’t have a word for what they wanted to say. Some, I suspect, did it just for the hellabit to see if they could get away with leaving an indelible mark on the language, if not on literature.
For example: The word Robot did not exist before 1921, when Czech playwright Karl Capek created it from the Czech root word for work and used it in his play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots).
Utopia was invented in 1516 by Sir Thomas More for his novel of the same name. It is a pun on a Latin word which means both ‘good place’ and ‘no place.’
Children’s author Lewis Carroll invented the words chortle, smog, brunch, and breathalyzer.
Some fans of Willie Shakespeare claim that he has added around 10,000 words to the language which never existed before he made them up. These include: hobnob, alligator, assassination, bump, eventful, and lonely. Some detractors say that the words were probably already used in the spoken language and he just wrote them down in his plays. Funny thing, though; no one else thought to do it before he did, and I’m pretty sure he wasn’t the only playwright of his time.
Now before you begin to think that all these common words gained their stationalization simply because they are old, consider this:
The word factiod did not exist before 1973, when Norman Mailer made it up to mean a fact which did not exsist before it appeared in a newspaper, or magazine. The meaning has changed somewhat since. (And, no, you young smartalecs out there. 1973 is NOT that old!)
So, what’s the point to all of this?
Every so often a writer will use a word that is either obscure, or they made up for a purpose. Outside of Sci-Fi, and Fantasy ─where words and names are made up with the blistering speed of a lightningbat─ some well-meaning beta reader, editor, or critic is bound to call you on it. Sometimes even when you’ve made it pretty clear what the word is supposed to mean.
Take heart. If the word is obscure, they are simply showing that they don’t know as much as you do, and were too darn lazy to Google it. If you made it up and pretty much explained it through context, or comparison; you can be reasonably certain they are not actually reading your story, they are skimming through it.
That, or you have yet another victim of the Elvin Woodhead Speed Readin’ course.
In the end, who knows? You may not have a novel that will stand through the coming centuries, but you may have permanently altered the language as we know it. Then the folks at Webster will have to include your word in all their future editions.