That’s Not A Word, It’s Not In the dictionary

a dictionary

Words, words, words...

A lot of people say this. A lot of people say this to me. I like to make up words once in a whiloccasion. So let me set the record straight.

If I said it and you understood it, it’s a word.

“How dare you say such a thing! Ms. So-and-so yelled at me in 4th grade for making up a word so I won’t let anyone else do the same!” you might be thinking. Well Ms. So-and-so was wrong about such-and-such.

First, let’s get rid of this phrase: “the dictionary.”

There is no one dictionary. There are many dictionaries. Different publications with different editions and different versions with different editors. They don’t have all of the same entries. They don’t all have the exact same definitions. Each dictionary serves a purpose and is edited as such. If you consult your Webster’s College Dictionary, it might not have complex medical terms. If you look up a word in your Writer’s Dictionary you might not find old slang.

Next, “That’s not a word.”

The first definition of word in the American Heritage Dictionary (notice that I specified the dictionary I referenced) is the following:

n. A sound or a combination of sounds, or its representation in writing or printing, that symbolizes and communicates a meaning…

If you look at other definitions from that or other dictionaries I’m pretty sure that you will not find any that says inclusion in a dictionary is a criteria for being a word. I’d like to call your attention to the end of the above definition: COMMUNICATES MEANING. Here’s more evidence:

The beauty of words is that we are all in control of them: everyone who is a competent speaker of a language is able and allowed to produce new words when needed and to alter the meaning of existing ones, and as long as grammatical rules are followed these new words will be understood even by people who have never heard them before. – “What is a word?”

I’ll repeat one of my above statements. If I said it and you understood it, it’s a word.

You now have my permission to create words. Others create new words all the time. That’s how English evolves, it’s not an inflexible set of items and rules to govern them… no matter what Ms. So-and-so said. Language is a tool for communication; as many tools are it can be fun to use. So go have fun. Find a locution for the nonce. Happy neologizing!

Any questions? Feel free to share words you invented in the comments!