Exercising a poetic license—inventing new words

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Matt Janacone
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Exercising a poetic license—inventing new words

Postby Matt Janacone » Sat Jul 30, 2016 1:39 pm

I believe writers have a poetic license, and I, a writer, am no exception, and I do not believe I abuse my powers.

I possess a poetic license rating, and that is from time to time, I have been known to invent words or modify them without consulting the commissioner of “Webster’s New World Dictionary”.

I simply have to make an executive decision as a writer, adding a word as a walk-on in my writing because either the form of the word I am looking forward has simply not been modified for a particular part of speech, or worse yet, for some reason, does not exist in the English language. I also do not like ending sentences without a prepositional phrase which is another poetic rating I possess. I just think ending a sentence with a prepositional phrase just sounds sweeter, more poetic. The grammatically correct way just sounds too awkward, don’t you think?

But back to inventing words.

I will either invent the part of speech for that word that seems to be absent from the English dictionary—or invent a new word all together. Drastic circumstances require drastic measures.

Like the word “trafficated” for example.

I play in bocce leagues. One night as I looked at a grouping of bocce balls surrounding the poline, I simply said, “It’s trafficated in there.”

“What?” my teammate asked me.

“It’s trafficated,” I replied. “There’s not a whole lot of room for another bocce ball to get in there for a point. Capisce?”


I have never actually used trafficated in anything I have written—of course, until now. And to be honest with you, I do not think you are having too difficult a time understanding what the word means—without me having to explain it with a bocce example.

I just do not understand why some words don not have more parts of speech, so, I simply just make them up or modify words that already exist. I make citizen’s arrest on the academics that are in charge of looking at and adding new words, or new forms of words, to the English dictionary. It is one way I exercise my poetic license.

Further reading: http://writermattjanacone.blogspot.com/
Last edited by Matt Janacone on Sun Sep 04, 2016 7:55 am, edited 2 times in total.

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Re: Exercising a poetic license—inventing new words

Postby devildogwhite » Sat Jul 30, 2016 8:43 pm

Making up words, or changing the meaning of existing words, is nothing new in the literary world. In dialogue pretty much any rule can be broken if it is done to reflect how the individual is speaking. Outside of dialogue you need to be a little more cautious so as not to confuse your reader. After reading your example, I still have no idea what the word "trafficated" actually means. Take a look at the poem "Jabberwocky", it's full of made up words, but they actually make sense when you read it as a whole. If you are making up words just for the sake of being creative, I would take a step back and make sure it actually works in the grander scheme of things. I don't know specifically what you are trying to write, but sometimes fake words can work, like in a Dr. Seuss book for kids, and sometimes it's better to just use what's in the dictionary.
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Re: Exercising a poetic license—inventing new words

Postby u.v.ray » Sun Jul 31, 2016 2:47 am

New words are invented by people on the street and enter popular usage every day. Especially in teenage culture. Not just by writers.

Of course, in literature specifically, Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange is undoubtedly one of the most prolific examples of invented words and languages. Though Burgess is quite clever in understanding how world languages actually develop in reality -- in the book his gang of teenage thugs fabricate words which meld Russian and/or French with English slang.

An understanding of how use of the vernacular develops in societies is probably necessary before we attempt it as writers. Poetic license does not extend to ill-defined diction.
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Re: Exercising a poetic license—inventing new words

Postby shadowwalker » Sun Jul 31, 2016 8:44 am

If one is going to make up words, one has to make sure there is some context so others can understand what they mean. As noted above, in dialog a character can make up words and then have another character get confused and then the first character can define it - but that's typically clumsy. In narrative, it's even less desirable. JMO, but a writer who makes up words generally (ie, not always) tends to be one with a limited vocabulary. The real creativity, again IMHO, is in making existing words work.
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Re: Exercising a poetic license—inventing new words

Postby James A. Ritchie » Fri Aug 19, 2016 11:59 pm

As long as you understand that you don't get the final say, readers do. You can have all the poetic license you wish, but every reader and listener out there has the right to tear up your poetic license and feed it to you. Where "trafficated" is concerned, I'd tell you your poetic license had expired.

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