Inventing words for Science Fiction

I’ve been at it again… I can’t help it… but what can a girl do when the english language doesn’t supply a word to cover what she wants to say?

It really all started when I wanted to describe the cold for the vacuum of space. So like a good ‘un I went to my dictionary, my thesaurus, my on-line dictionaries and thesaurus’s, the internet search machines such as google and could I find what I was looking for? Nix, zilch, nothing.  In the end I opted for an invented word, vaccold, to put a place holder for when the right word does come along.

Ever since then I’ve given myself permission to invent words for my science fiction. The ground rules are simple.

  1. Make sure the word you are looking for isn’t already in a dictionary somewhere – having access to the shorter Oxford English Dictionary really does help here;
  2. If you can get away with using a word from another language that does have the right meaning – use that – yes, concepts and meanings exist in other languages that do not have an equivalent in english;
  3. Make sure the word is obvious in meaning, certainly at its first three uses in the story I’m writing  – sometimes you don’t need to explain a word e.g. invisibilised.
Science fiction is fertile ground for having to invent new words. Why, you may ask? I think it’s because a lot of science fiction involves exploring ideas that are kind of alien to our thoughts, like grok (Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land) or tractor beam (which I now see NASA is going to some research on, but that’s another issue).
I’m sure someone somewhere in this big wide world must have done some research into what percentage of new words come into the english language because of science fiction. I would go one step further and postulate that the health of science fiction writing can be measured by the percentage of new words in english that come out of science ifciton writing.
Happy cogitations…

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