A few years ago, I heard two political figures use these so-called words: refudiate and misunderestimate. These gaffes, of course, made them sound stupid because they didn't know they were making up words. But what if you made up words on purpose? The practice is not as uncommon as you may think—and it can distinguish you and your business writing.
1. Last week, I reminded a colleague about something she’d forgotten to do. She wrote back with the information and apologized profusely. There was no real need to make amends, but I appreciated her thoughtfulness. And when she closed her e-mail with “Mea-culpishly yours,” I was completely won over. This made-up word not only amused me, it elevated my esteem for my colleague. (They’ve proven that a mistake well handled generates more loyalty than when everything goes according to plan!)
2. At a recent storytelling presentation I gave to the Stanford Women’s Club of the East Bay, one participant read a snippet from a story she’d written about the high price of produce. She refused to pay $3.50 for a particular member of the cole family and wrote that she returned home with her "cauliflowerless" shopping bag. She got a laugh because she chose to break away from Webster’s and explore more colorful uses of our language.
3. Brenda Ueland, author of the highly recommended book If You Want to Write, writes on page 7: “Yes, I hate orthodox criticism. I don't mean great criticism, but the usual small, niggling, fussy-mussy criticism, which thinks it can improve people by telling them where they are wrong, weasening all vision and bravery.”
The fancy name for words such as weasening is neologism (from the Greek neo for new and logos for speech). Neologisms are words that don't appear in the dictionary but should.
So, how can you use made-up words in your business writing?
1. Surf the Internet, and you'll find all kinds of made-up names that make companies and Web sites unique. Some make sense, some are interesting, while others are just fun. For example, you could create a unique name for your service (zamzar.com comes to mind) or you could make up a word that describes a common occurrence in your office--like Ueland's weasening. Capture your project's essence and define it for your readers to better engage them. You may even attract some media attention.
2. Do it for sport. I guarantee it will brighten your readers' days. I still chuckle about my sister applying for a paralegal job at the U.S. Postal Service and telling them she promised to be a gruntled worker. (It's so interesting that we never use the positive root of words such as disgruntled, ruthless, and listless. Wonder why?)
I've created a neologism that sums up how well I believe everyone can write:
gildress (gild-res) v. [Ger. gild, gold; Ger. reissen, to scratch, write] 1. To write brilliant copy, golden words. Did you gildress today? Not at first, but after a large latte, I gildressed for more than an hour. n. 1. Brilliant writing. The brochure radiates with gildress.
This week, go forth and gildress!
Have you made up words in your business writing? How were they received? Do you think neologisms are effective? If so, why?