Thursday, November 13, 2008

Unbudgeble English Words

Is it okay to use made up words in novels that we may use in common speech, but don't really exist?

This was a question asked on the Vision Writers email group (, a Queensland (Australia)-based spec-fic writing group. The writer really wanted to use the word 'unbudgeble' in her story (from the point-of-view of an eight-year-old). I found this ironic considering that it would only be the 'unbudgeble' editors who would have a problem with this kind of made-up colloquialism.

The responses on the Vision list were equally entertaining. As always, the wit and creativity of my fellow writers often leaves me in awe. Extraordinary people are writers. Me? I'm just an ordinary person trying to be a writer. :)

Russell Proctor, one of the Vision Writers responded: "Shakespeare did it. Made up words, that is. If it was good enough for him, what are you waiting for? English is a dynamic, progressive, ever-changing language. Let's go for it."

Another writer, Robert Dobson, wrote, "I don't know why you couldn't use unbudgebale, it's a perfectly cromulent word" which is funny because the word "cromulent" is slang for "fine/acceptable" (yes, I had to look that up on

Some words Vision Writers had made up for their writing:
  • "utterness" - the state of being extreme
  • "cosm" - to refer to any kind or size of thing that's like a cosmos
  • "smithereenified" - (I'll let you work that one out on your own)

Now this brings me to another question, which is how far do you go with slang when writing a story with a modern setting? As McCrindle Research has written:

"In the past the spoken word was a more relaxed version of the
structured written word - but the same basic rules of grammar applied.
This has now changed. For this post-modern generation these spoken
terms are not intended to be written. Indeed we had trouble getting
many of the Generation Y respondents to write them down- as they
never had. They may regularly ask “Whassup?” but it’s not intended to
be written. And the answer: “S’righ’” looks clumsy when written."

( )

I don't write stories with a modern Earth setting (I write speculative fiction), but if I did, I'm sure I'd want my characters to seem as believeable as possible. I would have my Gen Y protagonist saying things like, "bitchin", "bent" and "bling", "fully", "it's all good" and "taxed", but that's because I myself am Gen Y and I have said those things, or at least heard them commonly said. But more than half of the slang terms on McCrindle's Wordup Lexicon (link above) are foreign to me. This brings home a point that I must realise as a writer - that just because I am part of Gen Y doesn't mean that my cultural knowledge of Gen Y is complete enough to write from the point of view of my characters (unless they are all like me)!

Language research, then, is important to any writer, including (or especially) those writing stories set in a different time/culture to their own.

But that's a topic for another blog.


Satima Flavell said...

One problem with writing that includes a lot of slang is that it dates quickly and within a few years people will not understand it. Try reading C19 stories set in the Deep South or in London - much of the dialogue is almost incomprehensible!

I think it's best just to touch on the slang without going overboard so you don't alienate readers.

Kenny Surtani said...

Have to say i love your blog,and keep up your fantastic work :) !