I had a Baader-Meinhof moment recently – that’s when you first hear about something new, then suddenly it’s everywhere, pop culture’s flavour of the week. In this case it had to do with Terry Pratchett’s series of books about Discworld, a place that’s a flat, revolving disc on the back of a turtle floating in space.
(Just run with it.)
A friend of mine on Facebook mentioned it a few times, how she’d loved reading it to her boys, and then one of my sisters gave a copy of the first couple of books to my daughter for Christmas. I picked it up and read a few chapters of the first book, and then it was a question on one of that week’s Jeopardy episodes, and suddenly it was all Discworld, Discworld, Discworld.
I’m not sure I’ve been converted to fandom – it’s actually a pretty hard book to read, with lots of complicated language – too hard for my daughter, a little too odd for me. But my quick introduction to the series led to the discovery of my new favourite word.
Since the Discworld is flat, and spinning, there are four ways its residents can move. Then can be moving towards the edge of the disc, which is Rimward. They can be moving towards the centre of the disc, which is Hubbound. They can be moving around the disc in the direction it is turning, which is Turnwise.
Or, they can be moving around the disc, but against the direction of the turn, which is Widdershins.
Such a perfect word. The absolute, ideal word. Capturing not just the direction of travel, but the whimsical nature of the book, and the slightly off-kilter effect of fighting against the turn, and the slightly sinister suggestion that all is not quite right.
I love words, and when the absolute most perfect word comes along, it fills me with such serendipity. I can actually be moved by the beauty of finding just the right word.
But I also love it when the perfect word cannot be found, at least not in English, and so the author invents his own. I can’t imagine having the cleverness or the originality to venture outside my known vocabulary. Lewis Carroll is absolutely my go-to inspiration on this one – he invented several words that are now in the dictionary, like chortle, galumph, snark, and mimsy. Most of these were portmanteau words – words formed by merging two other words, to create a new word that means both. But did you know that Carroll also invented the word “portmanteau” to describe his inventions? Clever guy.
Dr. Seuss was also a wizard at word creation, and Anthony Burgess created almost a whole other language for A Clockwork Orange – although I just learned that most of those were derived from Russian. Still, impressive all around.And of course, Shakespeare – is there nothing that guy didn’t do? – added dozens of words to the English language, including uncomfortable, belongings, manager, and eyeball.
I feel like I’m still trying to get a handle on all the words we DO have, let alone invent new ones. But next time I can’t find just the perfect the word, just the right word – maybe I’ll give this word generator a try and see what it spits out.
What word will you invent today?