Making up words

Today between noon and 1pm, the free chunk of my school day, I went to the newsroom, and, rather than doing anything productive, I decided to make up some words.

I've been thinking lately about the way that a lot of fantasy/sci fi works come up with alien or fantastic names by just inserting a lot of Qs and Ys into things or using different languages and fudging letters, and I wanted to try to make up some words that didn't work that way.

So I looked back (metaphorically, I didn't actually have a tape of this or anything) to one time when I played a game of Bananagrams using entirely made-up words, then the person I'd played with and I came up with definitions for all the best ones.  Still, we'd come out with words like Qeboz, which sound good, but pretty much the same as the usual fantasy language.

To avoid that, I went through my Bananagrams tiles and sorted the tiles.  Then I pulled out all the ones that only came with 2, and a bunch of the E's, so (a.) I wouldn't be able to use any of the letters that are already really rare in English, and (b.) I wouldn't be using too much of the most common vowel.

Here's what I came up with:

fake words 2So, that's step one.  Step two, which ones are good, and which ones are actually fake.

Here are the words, alphabetically, with the ones I like in bold:

bame, brug, cagg, clind, cloat, dars, doir, drand, dutt, fostoat, frelger, frist, itue, larn, lendet, lodow, pholne, pomweer, prut, scut, snib, sonag, temmed, terowig, thent, trusil, wast, whid

Mostly I just went with what sounded good to me, but I can explain why I picked some of the ones I did, and why I left off some of the others: bame sounds too much like bane or blame, cagg sounds too much like crag, clind and dars don't sound like words, doir looks too much like Dior, itue is too hard to subvocalize, pholne looks like phone, pomweer is too weird, and scut sounds too much like a real word -- I suspect people would try to look it up.

Now, I've googled through the remainders:  Cloat, Drand, and Frist are surnames.

Larn is the name of a video game. Lodow means ice cream in Polish, according to Google Translate.  Snib is a part of a type of lock.  Trusil appears to be a brand of some sort.  Whid means to move quickly.  (I'll be saving that one -- it sounds like fun to use, even if it does have a definition.)

Google didn't even recognize fostoat, frelger, lendet, or terowig, so they're clear.

A few of these also turned up unpleasant definitions on UrbanDictionary, but it's hard to say how widespread those connotations may be.  I would want to explore more deeply if I had intended to use any of them.

Step three, making up definitions:

Fostoat sounds like a type of plant, if I wanted to go relatively simple with it I could say it means, pretty much, "Frost-oat."  A grain that grows in frozen wastelands.  (Making them not so much wastelands in the setting I'm inventing, I guess.)

Frelger sounds like a job, though felg is Norwegian for wheel rim.  (As it turns out, felger is the indefinite plural of felg in Norwegian, too.)  I suppose if I still wanted to use it, which I might, I might as well link it to fostoat, to build up a more specific setting, and say it's the kind of alcohol you get when you ferment it, and a felger is like a brewer.  The process (which I might invent later) would have to be a lot different than regular brewing, though, because there's not much of a point to write a book that has strange words for things that already exist.

Lendet sounds like an object to me, probably some kind of jewelry.  I imagine you could wear a lendet as a number of things -- a necklace, a broach, on a bracelet, although I think they'd be too heavy to wear as earrings or on rings.  I imagine them having a lot of cultural significance and would be a good point of reference in fleshing out the setting.

Terowig brings to mind both owls (probably because of Hedwig) and reindeer (I have no idea why) so I think they'd be some kind of wild animal native to the frozen not-wasteland.  They'd probably live in some kind of frozen woods,  I imagine them having bluish-white fur (or feathers) and antlers, and I don't know if they'd be feared, respected, or domesticated, but I am confident they are not hunted.

That's more or less how I go about making up words.  I lay no claim over any of these words or the definitions I've made up, so to avoid any weirdness or ambiguity about what's fair to use, I'm linking to a document that I've released into the public domain:

20130311 made-up words and their definitions