Lexical Dark Matter

Scholars have, so far, analyzed more than five million digitized books, which is only four percent of all the books ever printed. And in that lexicon, they’ve discovered, there exists vast pools of what they consider the lexical equivalents of “dark matter,” words and expressions that have been written, but aren’t to be found in standard dictionaries, such as:

Phomance. An incredible romance with Vietnamese food or phony romance.

Killingry. The twentieth century inventor, Buckminster Fuller used the term “killingry” to connote products of the military-industrial complex that would kill.

Frostitute. A person who sells marijuana-tinged frosting, illegally, for a living.

These may not yet enjoy an “official” status. However, they do enhance the evocativeness of what one is trying to convey. Erin McKean, founder of Wordnik, encourages writers to be wordsmiths.

I’m not advocating using or creating new words just for kicks; use of neologisms should be judicious, lest you end up sounding like a bad science-fiction novel. If your new word enhances your readers’ experience, go for it.

By circulating “undictionaried” words, one is only hastening their formal documentation by lexicographers. They’ll be removed of their invisibility cloaks only if there is enough evidence of their prevalence.

For it’s a kind of lexical Catch-22: since editors at most traditional dictionaries won’t include a word until they see published evidence of its use, holding off on using a word just because it’s not in the dictionary can actually delay its inclusion.

h/t: NYT


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