Words are great. We should have more of them.


How are new words created? As lexicographer Erin McKean told an audience at TEDYouth, there are actually six different ways—and she greatly encourages making use of all of them.

In the short talk, she explains, “my job as a lexicographer is to try to put all the words possible into the dictionary. My job is not to decide what a word is; that is your job. Everybody who speaks English decides together what’s a word and what’s not a word.”

Obviously, not all words catch on, but enough do that the Oxford English dictionary has to be updated four times a year. Some people don’t like this—according to McKean, “sometimes when people are trying to decide whether a word is good or bad, they don’t really have a good reason. So they say something like, ‘Because grammar!’…

“But that makes no sense to me. Words are great. We should have more of them. I want you to make as many new words as possible. And I’m going to tell you six ways that you can use to make new words in English.”

As she puts it, “Why should you make words? You should make words because every word is a chance to express your idea and get your meaning across. And new words grab people’s attention. They get people to focus on what you’re saying and that gives you a better chance to get your meaning across.”

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