Predicting New Words
The Secrets of Their Success
By Allan Metcalf
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Hardcover, 9780618130061, 320pp.)
Publication Date: October 2002
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
Have you ever wanted to gain linguistic immortality by making up a word? Many people have coined new words famous people like Jonathan Swift, Lewis Carroll, and Dr. Seuss, along with many lesser-knowns. But many more have put forward new words that failed. Why are some new words adopted while others are ignored? Allan Metcalf explores this question in his fascinating survey of new-word creation in English.
By examining past new-word contenders, Metcalf discerns lessons for linguistic longevity. For instance, he shows us why the humorist Gelett Burgess gave us the words blurb and bromide but failed to win anyone over with bleesh and diabob. Metcalf examines words invented for political and social reasons (African American, pro-life), words coined in books (edge city, the Peter principle), brand names and the words derived from them (aspirin, Ping-Pong), and words that started as jokes (big bang, couch potato). On the basis of this research, he develops a scale the FUDGE scale for predicting the success of newly coined words. The FUDGE scale has five factors: Frequency of use, Unobtrusiveness, Diversity of users and situations, Generation of other forms and meanings, and Endurance of the concept. By judging how an emerging new word rates for each FUDGE factor, Metcalf is able to predict which words will take root in the English lexicon and which words will dry up and blow away. In this highly original work, Metcalf shows us how to spin syllabic straw into linguistic gold.
Allan Metcalf is a professor of English at MacMurray College, executive secretary of the American Dialect Society, and author of books on language and writing. His books on language include AMERICA IN SO MANY WORDS (with David K. Barnhart), THE WORLD IN SO MANY WORDS, HOW WE TALK: AMERICAN REGIONAL ENGLISH TODAY, PREDICTING NEW WORDS, and PRESIDENTIAL VOICES. His books on writing include RESEARCH TO THE POINT and ESSENTIALS OF WRITING TO THE POINT. He lives in Jacksonville, Illinois.
"Has something for everyone . . . jam-packed with treats for word lovers." Booklist, ALA
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