Invention

Two things came together. One, in response to a query from a reader, I’ve been struggling to compile some sort of list of my terminological innovations, only to discover that a fair number of these seem to have been invented independently by others. Two, a friend wrote (to me, as a card-carrying linguist) to ask for credit for her invention of thirstrated, a portmanteau of thirsty and frustrated (parallel to hangry, a portmanteau of hungry and angry) — only to be disappointed when I told her that Urban Dictionary already had an entry for thirstrated in this sense, though I reassured her that independent innovations happen all the time.

One example from my own struggles: on phallicity ‘use of phallic symbols’, which I introduced in a posting of 8/23/10, but saying:

I’m far from the first to use the word, as you can see by doing some googling. It has its uses in certain lit-crit circles, and was used in the mocking re-titling “Phallicity of the Ruling Classes” by Helen Dewitt (on her paperpools blog, here) of the poem “Why Are We Naked Again II” by Mithridates (on his Night Hauling blog, here).

Of course, I found these uses after I’d invented the word myself.

Two points here. First, it’s foolish to insist that to use a term, you have to discover who was the first to use it and then give that person credit — especially when the term is a natural innovation, which could easily be invented over and over again independently.

Second, it’s also foolish to insist that to use a term, you have to find out whether some alternative term hasn’t already been invented, as if the earliest invented term had priority over all other possibilities. See my discussion of Ben Zimmer’s innovation of obscenicon (and my use of it), in the posting “The obscenicons vs. the grawlixes” of 8/1/10.

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