Thursday, March 11, 2010

Coined words

When people are geniuses, they get leeway the rest of us don't. But what are we, as writers, allowed to do with the precedent these geniuses set?

My current train of thought comes up over a single word I am debating over using (or not.) People like Shakespeare coined words all the time, words that have worked their way into our everyday speech. After all, according to Michael Macrone's Brush Up Your Shakespeare, the Oxford English Dictionary credits Shakespeare as the first to use these words, among others: "arch-villain," "bedazzle," "cheap" (as in vulgar or flimsy), "dauntless," "embrace" (as a noun), "fashionable," "go-between," "honey-tongued," "inauspicious," "lustrous," "nimble-footed," "outbreak," "pander," "sanctimonious," "time-honored," "unearthly," "vulnerable," and "well-bred." Now, if I used any of these words in my writing, would anybody point at me and say "You lifter of words?" I think not.

Where my trouble comes up is over one single word, not from Shakespeare, but coined by Tolkien. What word?

Weapontake.

In the sense of using the word to mean the mustering of troops, it is generally regarded as Tolkien's invention. If I wrote romance, or thrillers, or some other genre, perhaps it wouldn't be a big deal. But since I write fantasy, would the use of Tolkien's word, a word he coined within the last century, invite ire?

Clearly, I spend too much time ruminating on the absurd and the obscure.

But the fact remains, I love the sound of the word, and I think it sits in my story nicely. But the last thing I want to do is thrust my reader out of my tale with word usage.

But here is my bigger question: when does the word an author coins become the property of the populace? When you use a word used in an unconventional way by another author, are you giving a nod to a master, or are you functioning as nothing more than a pale shadow of someone greater? These are the questions I hope to answer as I think my weapontake dilemma through.

And I better figure it out before June, since that's when Digital Dragon Magazine needs the story in which the word will (or won't) appear.

3 comments:

  1. Have you seen this?

    http://oxfordinklings.blogspot.com/2010/01/weapontake.html

    I'd go for it, and call it a tribute. As I recall, William Gibson coined the word "cyberspace" and hasn't objected to its use elsewhere.

    It seems to me that having the word picked up and used by others is the definition of a successful coinage. And given that you write in a genre similar to Tolkein's, I think it's entirely appropriate.

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  2. Thanks for the link, Kristen! (And also for the encouragement that the word might work in what I do!)

    I love the internet...full of helpful people and more information than anyone could find in a lifetime.

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  3. I absolutely think you should go for it... it is a good word, after all. Besides, do you know how many times I've seen 'mithril' and 'kingsfoil'/'athelas' used? R.A Salvatore even goes so far to name one of his characters 'Luthien'. I have always considered those references to be respectful nods to the impact Tolkien must have had on their love of reading and development as writers.

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