June 19, 2014, by michaelgroves

Is “adorkable” a word?

There is a recent TED video, in which Anne Curzan, a Professor of English from Michigan University discusses how words move from being neologisms to established words. It’s witty, informed and well worth a watch.

One of the most interesting points she makes is that people often say that it is a legitimate word if it is “in the dictionary”- as if “The Dictionary” is a single object, somehow independently existing. She reminds us that dictionaries are constantly being revised, and revised by people that are as human as the rest of us. She explains the process for a word to be adopted into a dictionary, and what decisions have to be taken in these cases.

She also mentions a certain Trussian* sniffiness to do with new words, such as “hangry” or “defriend”, expressed by casual acquaintances. However, it occurred to me that, in many ways, neologisms  are the life blood of much of academia. When scientists discover new principles or engineers create new inventions they need to name them.  Social Sciences and Humanities are constantly merging and melding concepts, and defining their space by use of new coinages- my most recent favourite being “pluriculturality”.

Anne Curzon also makes the very sensible point that new words are always going to be invented, and old words are always going to be taking on new meanings.  You can be as sniffy as you want, but language is always going to change.  Personally, I think that to prosper in Academic life, we need to be comfortable with new words and meanings. And it is pure snobbery not to accept them when they come from other walks of life.



*Don’t look the word up, I just invented it. It’s based on Lyn Truss

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