Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Origins of words--Beautimous

One of the things that writers are fascinated by, or at least I am, is the process by which new words come into being. And while there are a couple of countries where the government has a say in it, Isreal and France, most often it is speakers and writers who coin new words.

For instance, the word Utopia was coined by Thomas More. I know this because of my college philosophy class. It actually means "no such place" being a nod to the fact that More was writing about a place that did not exist; much like Plato used Atlantis to talk about his idea of the perfect society (detailed in The Republic)--of course, I have to ask if it was so perfect, why did the gods decide to destory it?

But outside, of the language committees (meant to keep the language pure) and the occasional writer who coins a word, most new words come from the spoken language. They come out of the way that people talk. When we see a dictionary that traces the first known instance of a word, you have to remember that they are tracking written instances of the word--if it came from the spoken language, it was properly being used in conversation long before (or at least, a decade).

The written word is conservative. It is slow to change. The proof lies in the spelling of Knight--pronounced nite. We still spell it with a K, despite the fact that none of us have pronounced it that way in centuries.

The makers of dictionaries are especially conservative. They have to be. It would serve no one if they allowed every bit of slang into dictionaires. Because of that, words have to prove that they have staying power; they have to pass the test of time.

In our modern time, this test of time has gotten shorter, but that is a subject for another day.

Seldom do we know who coined a word because of this. For instance, today on one of the MSN groups that I frequent, one of the wonderful ladies there used the word beautimous to describe a graphic that someone made. It is a wonderful word (personal opinion). Yet if it stands up to the test of time, no one will know who or how it came to be.

In this case, Gina admits that it she was tired and trying to amuse her fussy baby when it came out of her mouth. Her daughter likes it when she makes up songs, and the occasional word. I find it a charming story; but if the word survives, the story will be forgotten. For that is one of the property of the spoken word, the origin of a word must be forgotten before it is allowed into the written language--if it has not been around long enough for people to forget its source, it has not been around long enourgh to allow into the dictionary.

Sad, but true.

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