Lexicographer Erin McKean wants us to make up new words, and she makes a case that’s entertaining and compelling.
McKean is the creator of an online dictionary called Wordnik, a tool to help keep up with English’s evolution. Our language changes every day as we all speak, and Wordnik pulls from multiple sources to give you current official definitions of words and examples of how those words are being used today. It combines data from the American Heritage Dictionary and Roget’s Thesaurus with Twitter, Flickr, and other social media outlets to give a real-time snapshot of how we’re using words.
In her talk, McKean explains that “language is just a group of people who agree to understand each other” and encourages us all to make up new words. “Every word is a chance to express your idea and get your meaning across,” says McKean. “And new words grab people’s attention. They get people to focus on what you’re saying.” In a world of short attention spans, we could certainly use new ways to get folks’ attention.
According to McKean, there are two kinds of grammar. The first is instinctual. It’s that innate knowledge of a language that comes with speaking it from birth or knowing it really well. The second kind is called usage, and that kind encompasses all of the stuffy rules that she says are often used “to discourage people from making up words.” She thinks that’s silly. Why do we get to be creative in art and music but not in language?
So go ahead…check it out: