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Predicting New Words: The Secrets of Their Successby Allan A. Metcalf
Synopses & Reviews
Have you ever wanted to gain linguistic immortality by making up a word? Many people have coined new words — famous people like Jonathan Swift, Lewis Carroll, and Dr. Seuss, along with many lesser-knowns. But many more have put forward new words that failed. Why are some new words adopted while others are ignored? Allan Metcalf explores this question in his fascinating survey of new-word creation in English.
By examining past new-word contenders, Metcalf discerns lessons for linguistic longevity. For instance, he shows us why the humorist Gelett Burgess gave us the words blurb and bromide but failed to win anyone over with bleesh and diabob. Metcalf examines words invented for political and social reasons (African American, pro-life), words coined in books (edge city, the Peter principle), brand names and the words derived from them (aspirin, Ping-Pong), and words that started as jokes (big bang, couch potato). On the basis of this research, he develops a scale — the FUDGE scale — for predicting the success of newly coined words. The FUDGE scale has five factors: Frequency of use, Unobtrusiveness, Diversity of users and situations, Generation of other forms and meanings, and Endurance of the concept. By judging how an emerging new word rates for each FUDGE factor, Metcalf is able to predict which words will take root in the English lexicon and which words will dry up and blow away. In this highly original work, Metcalf shows us how to spin syllabic straw into linguistic gold.
Book News Annotation:
Since 1990, the American Dialect Society, of which Metcalf (English MacMurray College) is Executive Directory, has chosen a New Word of the Year, most of them already obscure. Drawing on those and on other evidence, he tries to pin down factors that make new words adhere to the standard vocabulary.
Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Have you ever aspired to gain linguistic immortality by making up a word? Many people — such famous writers as Jonathan Swift, Lewis Carroll, and Dr. Seuss, along with many lesser-knowns — have coined new words that have endured. But most of the new words people put forward fail to find favor. Why are some new words adopted, while others are ignored? Allan Metcalf explores this question in his fascinating look at new-word creation.
In surveying past coinages and proposed new words, Metcalf discerns lessons for linguistic longevity. He shows us, for instance, why the humorist Gelett Burgess succeeded in contributing the words blurb and bromide to the language but failed to win anyone over to bleesh or diabob. Metcalf examines terms invented to describe political causes and social phenomena (silent majority, Gen-X), terms coined in books (edge city, Catch-22), brand names and words derived from them (aspirin, Ping-Pong), and words that derive from misunderstandings (cherry, kudo). He develops a scale for predicting the success of newly coined words and uses it to foretell which emerging words will outlast the twenty-first century. In this highly original work, Metcalf shows us how to spin syllabic straw into linguistic gold.
In this witty, informative look at the winners and losers in the great game of new-word creation, Metcalf shows how to spin syllabic straw into linguistic gold.
About the Author
Allan Metcalf is a professor of English at MacMurray College, executive secretary of the American Dialect Society, and author of books on language and writing. His books on language include AMERICA IN SO MANY WORDS (with David K. Barnhart), THE WORLD IN SO MANY WORDS, HOW WE TALK: AMERICAN REGIONAL ENGLISH TODAY, PREDICTING NEW WORDS, and PRESIDENTIAL VOICES. His books on writing include RESEARCH TO THE POINT and ESSENTIALS OF WRITING TO THE POINT. He lives in Jacksonville, Illinois.
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