Funner. Impactful. Blowiest. Territorialism. Multifunctionality. Dialoguey. Dancey. Thrifting. Chillaxing. Anonymized. Interestinger. Wackaloon. Updatelette. Noirish. Huger. Domainless. Delegator. Photocentric. Relationshippy. Bestest. Zoomable.
What do all these words have in common? Someone, somewhere, is using them with a disclaimer like "I know it's not a real word ..."
There's no good reason for the "not a real word" stigma. They all look like English words: they're written in the roman alphabet, without numbers or funny symbols. They're all easily pronounced - not a qwrtlg or a gxrch in the group.
From a purely functional point of view, they act like words: relationshippy in the sentence "Just come to the conclusion that boys don't like talking about relationshippy things" behaves in exactly the same way that an adjective like girly would.
And funner in the sentence "I don't know a better person or a funner person to be around - I love you, Mom," hinders the understanding of the reader not a jot. We all get that the writer really, really loves her mom, and changing funner to "more fun" wouldn't improve their relationship - or that heartfelt tribute - one bit.
But if all these words look wordish, sound wordish, and act wordish, why are they all hedged about with the namby-pamby "I know it's not a real word" disclaimers? (Note: wordish is a perfectly good word.)
We all know that there are words that no one can complain about (when was the last time you heard a grammar rant about apple or Tuesday or fair?) and words that almost everyone finds offensive (no need to print them in an article). What we don't have a firm grasp on is the acceptability of a wide range of other words, especially words we've hung affixes on. Redness is OK, but what about grossness? Heroism is fine, but what about thespianism?
We have similar problems with words that have undergone a shift in function or part of speech ("shopping at thrift store" becoming thrifting, anonymous becoming verbed as anonymize), nonstandard forms (funner, huger, interestinger), and, of course, any slang words someone hasn't personally heard or used (chillaxing, wackaloon). What does a word have to do to be a "real word"?
Being in a dictionary isn't enough (since territorialism, dancey, noirish, anonymized, bestest, and yes, wordish are all in the Oxford English Dictionary). Does it have to be recognised by your spellchecker? Mine was happy with territorialism, delegator, and, surprisingly, huger.
Being frequent isn't enough: funner is slightly more frequent in a two-billion-word corpus of web English than interrobang, and no one says interrobang (a combination of the exclamation point and the question mark) isn't a "real word".
Being standard isn't enough: anonymized is a perfectly reasonable way to say "made anonymous", and has been for at least a quarter-century.
In a printed book? All of the words in the above list are in printed works. (Some of them are even in the titles of printed works.)
Discuss in our Forums
See what other readers are saying about this article!
Click here to read & post comments.
2 posts so far.