Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Made up words

Made up words.  Every family has them—or so I believe.  They are words commonly used among family members that are believed to be legitimate English words but are not found in any dictionary.  Some of them may be bona fide English words but may be used in a different context to common uses.  Others may be common items but called by a specific brand name rather than the common name.  Sometimes these pesky words sneak into our writing unwittingly.

My family is fraught with them.  My father was a carpenter who always referred to formica by its brand name, Arborite.  One day he sent me to the store to purchase some Arborite.  As soon as I asked the shopkeeper for Arborite, he said, “You’re Lloyd’s daughter aren’t you?  He’s the only person on the island that calls formica Arborite.”  That was the first time I realized my family had its own unique diction.

The second time took me a little longer.  We grew up referring to movie trailers as “draphic.”  I had no idea that it was not a legitimate word until I went to graduate school.  I was talking to a lab tech about the draphic to a movie and she had no idea what I meant.  When I explained the meaning to her she said there is no such word.  I challenged her. We looked it up using many resources at our disposal, and I lost.  There is no such word as draphic.  Of course I had to be conceited, so I defended my position by saying it is a Kittitian word.  I’ve since then spoken to a lot of Kittitians about the word.  The only people who know what it means besides my family are friends of my family who frequented our home.

  I started looking up a lot of the words that we commonly used in my family vernacular and yes, many of them were not real English words, but still, they sometimes creep into my writing unwittingly.

Take for example the word spall.  According to Merriam dictionary, as a noun it means a small fragment or chip and as a verb it means to break off or chip.  In my family, and maybe on a broader level, my island, it had a very specific definition that was restricted to eroded enamel utensils.  If an enamel cup or plate had an eroded spot where the paint was chipped and we could see the rusting metal beneath, we said it was spalled or spalded or spall up.  And if you dropped a perfectly good enamel utensil you could “spall it up’.  In writing my latest romance, “Hurricane of the Heart” to be released this summer, I described an enamel plate as being spalled.  My publisher/editor asked what it meant.  I found it perplexing that she was from the Caribbean, from the same country as me and had never heard of a spalled or spalded or spallup cup.  So we looked it up.  Eventually I realized though the word spall is used to mean chip, there is not “spalled” or “spalded”.  We eventually changed the word to tarnished.

I’m sure it’s not only my family that mangles English words with so much reiteration that the members accept them and their usage as standard English.  What are some of the unique words in your family or cultural vernacular that you thought were Standard English?  Do they ever creep into your writing and if so does it enhance or adversely affect your writing?

 I want to wish Novel Spaces a happy 6th anniversary today. 
Write on, novelnaughts, write on!


Charles Gramlich said...

Spall is a great word. I use it on occasion in writing. Smegy was a made up word in my family. My brother made it up. It basically meant "nonsense."

Jewel Amethyst said...

Smegy is a great word. Did you think it was an actual English word or were you aware it was a made up word?

Liane Spicer said...

I love this post! There was a man in my father's office whose specialty was making a mess of things, from the English language to the organization's strategies. The man's name was Farquar, and the verb 'farquarized' around our home meant the same as the current FUBAR (effed up beyond all recognition). As in "Who farquarized the stereo?"

My mom has her own inventions. While upbraiding one of us for going out and forgetting to lock the door she said that we shouldn't be so careless with all the lurkists raping about the place. She meant 'rapists lurking', but in our family the word 'lurkist' means someone who lurks with the intention of raping.

Then there's Butterque. When my son was a toddler every cartoon character was Butterque (his version of Pinnochio) and the word has stuck around.

As for the words my island has just made up or reassigned, they are too numerous to mention. :)

Jewel Amethyst said...

Lol Liane. As you spoke of upbraiding, I just remembered another one my father used to use: lamanoint. When he said he was going to "lamanoint your backside" it meant your backside would be sore for some time from a solid spanking.

Liane Spicer said...

Ouch, Jewel. That sounds painful! :D

Che Gilson said...

This is a great take on made-up words! I've seen TV and books do it, but I've never tried it out myself.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Liane, it was painful, but the words had such a rhythmic ring to it, especially now that I'm an adult and he isn't here to lamanoint my backside :)

Che,I can just imagine it in your cartoons/graphic novels. You should try it some time.

James R. Callan said...

Great post. It's always good to learn that other places are different - even some of the words they use. Thanks.

Jewel Amethyst said...

You're welcome James

Sunny Frazier said...

This got me to thinking about my own family. We don't have weird words, but three of us are verbally dyslecic. We add letters, subtract letters, twist words. People love to correct me, but I just shrug it off. My family catches the meaning. I think this comes form Dad, who heard words then changed them to his liking.

I came across a man with dark hair but a red beard. He said his friends call him "Trans-ginger." Love it, plan to use it in a story!

Another man gave me "Tooth-to-tatt ratio." It means the more tattoos a person has, the fewer teeth. I used it in my last book.

And, in the Sheriff's Dept. we used "leg-bail." I used it in my book and the editor "fixed" it to "leg and bail." No way! It means a criminal ran off when we tried to catch him.

Terrific post!

Sunny Frazier said...

Opps, forgot "flatlanders." That's what the people in the Sierra Nevada foothills call us who live in the San Joaquin Valley. We have some colorful names for them, too derogatory to say here.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Lol Sunny. I especially liked leg-bail and tooth to tatt ratio.