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The publication of the first Roald Dahl dictionary, packed with evocative neologisms and onomatopoeic nonsense words, has got the Stratton Craig crew misty-eyed for times gone by. As writers it’s a stark reminder that English is an ever-evolving language packed with near-limitless creative potential, including lots of ways to invent new words.
Some beautiful-sounding words have been coined over the years – like petrichor, invented in 1964 to describe the smell of rain on hot ground, by combining the Greek words ‘Petra’ (meaning stone) and ‘ichor’ (meaning the blood of the gods and goddesses). Vellichor is a similar word for the strange wistfulness of second-hand book stores. Sonder, from 2012, is the momentary realisation that every stranger you pass has a life as vivid and complex as your own.
We wrote earlier this year about how English is learning to express itself by pinching words from other languages, but English is also one of the greatest exporters of newly-coined words in the Internet age. Linguists at the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies continually invent beautiful new words to prevent things like ‘selfie’, ‘manspreading’ and ‘bae’ from casually creeping into Icelandic. Back in 1964 they created tölva—combining tala (number) and völva (prophetess) – which is a beautifully poetic way to describe a computer.
Flexing our neologistic muscles
It’s a bit of stretch for us to come up with names for things that haven’t been invented yet, but what would the Stratton Craig Institute for Outstanding English come up with for those niggling things that don’t have a proper name, like the cupboard under the stairs?
Inspiration comes more easily than you might think. The Welsh border is only a short drive from our Bristol office, so with the knowledge that a cupboard under the stairs is called a ‘cwtch’ just 18 miles away – and knowing that cwtch is also used for a cuddle, because it means ‘hold and make safe’ – we’ve come up with huggin.
Portmanteaus are an even easier way to create new words, compounding two familiar utterances to create something new. Anyone can create one, and they’re some of the easiest to remember (so they enter popular use more easily). That’s why most of us have heard of a staycation, jeggings and frenemies.
A quick bash in the office has come up with a few good ones. That feeling when you realise you’ve run out of loo roll? Andrexiety. Unidentified vermin raiding your trash can? That’s a binvader. A late-night taxi after one-too-many cocktails is an Uberlance.
What would you come up with? We want a word for the sleepy feeling you get after lunch (a familiar sensation in the Stratton Craig office); a way of describing the inside of your elbow without using the word ‘pit’; and something that better describes food envy while encompassing the sense of regret at one’s own poor choice.
Suggestions welcome on Twitter @strattoncraig or in the comments.