Is That a Word?

On hot Mesquite afternoons, I will sometimes opt to forego sipping sweet tea on my patio and gazing at Flat-top Mesa in favor of working at my PC in my nice cool office.  Until a few weeks ago, I referred to this activity doing a little wordsmithing. But, Brian McDonald ruined the use of that specific phrase for me.

Who is Brian McDonald? He is a screenwriter, director, teacher and an author.  He informed me, via an article appropriately titled Wordsmithing Is NOT a Word, that there is no such word as wordsmithing. I’m not sure if he has the authority to make that determination.  Yet, he stated in the article:  “the term wordsmith is an English language word, created in late 1800s, to describe a person who works with words and is especially a skillful writer and the only variation on wordsmith is wordsmithery.” This, of course,  implies that there is no such verb as wordsmithing.

Upon reading this, I began to wonder: Who decides what is and what isn’t an English language word and under what circumstances are these decisions made? I searched high and low, but could find no group of scholars or ordinary folks who are empowered with approving or disapproving the creation of a word.  Nor did I find any official “word” police, who are charged with the enforcement of what is and what isn’t a word.  However, I did discover some interesting trivia regarding how words are created.

New words can be created from scratch and be etymologically unrelated to any other known word in use at the time.  In the last century or two, words like gadget, blimp, raunchy, scam, nifty, zit, clobber, boffin, gimmick, jazz and googol all appear to have been created from scratch.

New words can be formed by using old words in different forms or with fresh functions.

  • Adding prefixes or suffixes to existing root words.  Examples: sub-prime (interest rates charged to borrowers with poor credit scores) and textpectation (the anticipation of a reply to a text message).
  • Clipping or shortening existing words.  Examples: blog (short for web log), exam, gym, lab, vet, fridge, bra, phone and burger are obvious.  Perhaps less obvious is the derivation of words like mob – from the Latin phrase mobile vulgus, meaning a fickle crowd, and goodbye – a shortening of the phrase God-be-with-you.
  • Fusing words together to form new compound words.  These words may be run together:  airport, seashore, fireplace, footwear, wristwatch, landmark, flowerpot. They may be hyphenated: self-discipline, part-time, mother-in-law.  They may be left as separate words: fire hydrant.

Within the English language, folks adapt, create and form words for all kind of reasons and local fashion dictates if they become accepted and commonly used. Some folks use Oxford and Webster Dictionaries as the “official” governing bodies of English words and others don’t.  Therefore, I say there is no official governing body over the creation of English words. Thus, I consider English to be free to transform and evolve without restraints.  This makes English pretty unique

Betty Freeman Haines, an author and award winning columnist, lives in Mesquite, NV.  Her books/e-books, Reluctant Hero and Grieving Sucks or Does It, can be ordered from amazon.comShare your thoughts and opinions with her at betvern@cascadeaccess.com

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