Have you ever felt the need to create a new word?

Subject: Have you ever felt the need to create a new word?
From: Geoff Hart <ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>, Kathy Bowman <Kathy -dot- Bowman -at- saabsystems -dot- com -dot- au>
Date: Mon, 24 Apr 2006 09:11:52 -0400

Kathy Bowman wondered: <<Have you ever felt the need to create a new word? >>

Far less often than my author clients. I find that there's usually a perfectly serviceable word or phrase that already exists in most cases. However, as I work in the sciences, my authors occasionally come up with something new enough that no word exists yet, and need to create a new one or use one that's still rare. That's very cool to see happen. (Examples escaping me right now... time for more coffee.)

I also find that authors try to coin a single word where two or three existing words will do the job better. In these cases, I plead the principle of parsimony and strongly encourage the authors to avoid adding neologisms unnecessarily. "Necessary" is, of course, somewhat subjective, but as I have a pretty good vocabulary, it's a tighter constraint for me than for some of my authors.

<<For example, in a military sense a target can be 'engageable', ie it is able to be engaged. This leads to the term 'Engageability' on a screen, meaning that it is (or is not or will be) able to be engaged. The screen could show "Ability to be engaged' or 'Able to be engaged' but there is limited room and we are stuck with 'Engageability'.>>

It's important to understand that different "discourse communities" develop their own unique jargons. Where those jargons are sufficiently standardized that everyone knows the meaning, or will learn it during the training that lets them become part of a given community, we should not try to change the words. Our job is to use words in ways that the audience understands, even if those words strike us as barbarous or nonsensical. (Let's not talk about lawyers before the second cup of coffee, please. <g>)

The same words work poorly for a different audience, and that's where our job becomes that of translator. Much of the work I do is "technology [knowledge] transfer", which means taking science and presenting it in terms that potential users of the science can understand.

<<My approach is to accept that English changes, and to use the new words where necessary as if they are recognised and valid English words... In the meantime, I have a trainer who won't use a 'made-up' word and is doing back-flips to avoid using either 'engageable' or 'engageability' in his training documentation. >>

With the above caveats, your approach is sensible. The trainer's approach is also sensible if the word is not yet standard jargon or if better terms exist, but if the word is the preferred term for the audience, the trainer needs to be reminded to speak the same language as his students.

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Geoff Hart ghart -at- videotron -dot- ca
(try geoffhart -at- mac -dot- com if you don't get a reply)
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Have you ever felt the need to create a new word?: From: Kathy Bowman

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