A Life Of Fiction CXXIX

For those of you new to this WordPress site, this site is about me and my writing – and a little about my role-playing, as well. It gives readers a chance to sample my work; and gives me the chance to say a little about the genesis of each novel, or about the process of writing in general.


The words that don’t exist: Yes, sometimes, I use words which I cannot find in my Collins Dictionary; or, for that matter, in my Encyclopedia Britannica dictionary. Not that I can trust Microsoft Word in the matter: it has just underlined Encyclopedia in red, despite that being the way that the product is named.

There are words which don’t exist, but which, I feel, should exist. I don’t mean words which I have invented, such as grismal, which is a compound of grim and dismal. No, I mean those words which you use and which Word underlines in red – the words which you think must exist. But when you look them up in a dictionary you cannot find any trace of them.

I don’t mean words which are rare or little used. I have had a few posts, in the past, listing some of those words. I mean the words which you put into your novel or short story, only to discover that they apparently do not exist. You think that they exist, so you get down that big heavy dictionary from off the shelves. But you can’t find the word anywhere in the dictionary.

A word of caution here: sometimes those dictionaries do miss out words which are in everyday usage. They are not perfect. My dictionary, for some bizarre region, does not have the words culottes in it, despite the fact that we all know that it is a word. So, before realising that you have put down a word which does not exist, you should check in several sources, to be sure.

So what do you do when you put down a word which doesn’t exist, but whose meaning, you think, would be obvious to anybody reading the word? Well, you really only have two options: change the word for something which you can find in your dictionaries; or leave the word as it is and try to create a neologism. Sometimes I change the word. But, other times – especially when writing verse – I will leave the word as it is. There are words which we need, I think, but which we do not yet have.

Queendom is not a word, as far as I can tell. You can have a principality or a dukedom or a kingdom. But you can’t have a kingdom. Sexist? Well, perhaps. You might say that a place ruled by a queen is going to be a place which is usually going to be run by a king instead: such as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. But what about matriarchal monarchies, such as that of the Amazons of Greek mythology? The amazons were ruled by Queen Hippolyte, if I remember my Greek myths. They would always be ruled by a woman. So why not call such a monarchy a queendom?

Necrologue is a word which definitely does not exist, as I invented it for one of my poetry collections. It comes from nekros – meaning dead body – and logos – meaning words or speech. Those poems are the words of the dead. It is a suitably depressing title for a depressing collection of verse. Necrologue, like queendom, is a word which a person should be able to understand just by looking at the word.

I think that is the point in creating words like those two: that a person looking at the word should not need a dictionary to work out what they mean. The meaning should be suggestive in the word itself. There is no point in putting down some word like snerf – the disappointment felt when the snow melts before you have a chance to play in it – if you have to explain just what the word actually means.

I am sure that many of you out there can invent words in your novels and short stories. Perhaps some of those words will gain currency, and enter the English lexicon. After all, all words have to start somewhere. Just try and avoid words with inelegant etymology: such as television, which is half from a Greek route and half from Latin. Go all Greek, or go all Latin, but, please, try not to mix the two.

I guess that my strange mind will keep coming up with words which do not exist, and that Word will keep underlining them in red. Oh, well, let us soldier on.

Now all that I wonder about is what I can write about in my next blog post.


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