Saturday, September 20, 2008

May I Have a Word?

It's every writer's perogative to invent new words. Sometimes the correct word does not hitherto exist. Or perhaps a combination of words is best suited to the situation being described. A creative effort to really convey a concept better than existing words will allow. My opinion of it is that it is acceptable in stories (or poems) so long as the word's meaning is clear from the context.

However, there are cases where it's just so alliterative or ingeniously non-sensical that it just doesn't matter what the word means at all. The definition is not the point. I am thinking specifically of Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky. For example, what is "a frumious Bandersnatch" or a "vorpal sword" that produces a "snicker-snack" noise when used? It doesn't matter. It's the playful sound and mysterious allure of seeming definitive. And yet, it does mean something, as the "feeling" of the poem is clear. The mystique is marvelous, telling a clear story even though the words are unfamiliar. So perhaps what I've come to accept as the "rule" applies to the great rhyme of the mythic monster as well.

Of course, many scholars have examined Carroll's terrrific nonesense to the point of actually defining the words. Whether based on context or clues from Carroll himself, many feel they have deciphered it. For instance, the poem begins 'Twas brilling... Apparently, "brilling" now means boiling water at approximately four in the afternoon in prepartion for cooking dinner. Who knew?

Well, I have recently broken the rule. The other day, out of the blue, I uttered: filiquious. It sounds like a real word, doesn't it? "Don't be so filiquious." Having been burned by not having coined the phrase "ridiculously ubiquitous," I made sure to do one of my favorite things and consult the Dictionary. (You can find out why this is "fun" to me here.) Hosah! I did not find "filiquious." The next question of course is: What does it mean? So I sought out the root words, prefixes, suffixes and similiar words. But I still didn't arrive at an obvious conclusion.

Using the miracle of chatting instantly online, I present my "findings" to Sunshine. She came up with what had initially figured as well. That "fili" would be related to a son or daughter. I explained that I'd thought that, but also that I discovered it to be actually more akin to the root of words such as filament...which meant that it refers to "thread" or "strand." "Quious" it would seem is something not unlike the "who" that is involved. Example: obsequious. In order to be obsequious, there must be a person who is displaying servile complaisance. Thus, I figured filiquious must be done with or to or by someone. Presented with this information, Sunshine typed, "Or are you just stringing me along??" Excitedly I told her that I'd also had this thought, but had not been sure of its worthiness. However, since both of us derived this concept from the new word, we decided this must be the answer. Sunshine came through again with this example sentence: After the filliquious discussion, he finally told her what she needed to know.

So there you have it. It's a word to succinctly say a common occurence, one that most people would prefer not happen. Filiquious- the quality or state of dangling information or stringing someone along.

I did not mean to be filiquious with her in my pursuit of the matter, but I am glad that she helped solve my self-created literary dilemma. Thanks, Sunshine!
*I have one other question: In the famous illustration by John Tenniel, why does the Jabberwocky wear a vest?


Sunshine said...

Perhaps it would be even more correct to say that it's: the quality or state of dangling information or stringing someone along as though that someone is your insolent son or daughter!
Anyway- Shakespeare invented words all the time, so why not you~!?

Mel said...

You may also consider the word "filibuster" which is used to string proceedings along often to ridiculous lengths.

When I was a kid, I thought I invented the word "vomitous." I was so proud. I used it all the time. And then I found it already existed. I was crushed.

Peter Von Brown said...

Sunshine - I love it. Better to include all possibilites. Thanks.
And I try to invent words all the time when I write. Not to any great lengths, of course. And when I do I usual go with the "Can its meaning be understood in context?" rule. No need to be be uncomprisingly filiquious for the reader.

Mel -
HA! That's cute. Sadly, I know the feeling. :)
As for "filibuster" - yes, indeed. I ran across that while I pursued the etemological ramifications of filiquious. It's one of those that helped suggest "fili" is more suited/akin to "strand/thread." Thanks for sharing it.

Anonymous said...

What does "up in adam" mean? Did you make that up?

- *the golden dwarf

Peter Von Brown said...

Well, sort of... it's a play on words from "Up and at 'em" with the name Adam. As for how it relates, you'll have to have read the book.