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Who Makes Up New Words?

I wonder if you have heard of the word compofluous? I’m sure it’s a new word to many people. It means “something that seems ridiculous, and yet is a reality.” We take it for granted that massive planes weighing hundreds of tons can fly across the sky. Two hundred years ago such a thought would have been ridiculous. But today planes are a reality. The fact that we can see and talk to people on the other side of the world, at the speed of light—without the use of wires—would have seemed absurd one hundred years ago. But things like Skype and FaceTime are facts of life. Much of modern technology is compofluous.

“We take it for granted that massive planes weighing hundreds of tons can fly across the sky. Two hundred years ago such a thought would have been ridiculous.”

It was because I kept misspelling the word “Thanks” as “Thnaks” at the end of emails that I considered making it a new word. That would have solved my typo problem. The thought sparked the question as to who it is that makes up new words. Could “thnaks” ever be seriously considered as an alternative word to express appreciation?

After some research, I discovered that it is dictionary publishers who determine what to add to the million or so existing English words, and that they come up with about a thousand new words each year.

The Guardian added,

But these represent just a sliver of the tip of the iceberg. According to Global Language Monitor, around 5,400 new words are created every year; it’s only the 1,000 or so deemed to be in sufficiently widespread use that make it into print.1

Another curiosity I have has to do with the first word that Adam said. I wonder what it was? “Hello”? “Huh”? Or as a brand-new human being, was he like a newborn babe in his understanding? I seriously doubt that he began life with “Goo-goo” and “Dadda.” I think God would have given him the intuitive ability to think, speak, and communicate. He would have been mature in body, mind, and soul, and that meant he had the ability to speak a complete and intelligible language. His first recorded words are given to us in Scripture:

And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man. And Adam said:

“This is now bone of my bones
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man.” (Genesis 2:21–23)

Adam made up a new word: “Woman.” Previous to this, he’d been busy making up other new words for the Eden dictionary—words for animals that presumably had huge ears, long trunks, extended necks, massive tails, stripes or patches, that mooed, barked, and squawked—animals that crawled, jumped, walked, flew, and ran. God brought them to him specifically to be named by Adam:

Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name. So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him. (Genesis 2:19,20)

Necessity is the mother of invention, and the fact that Adam was surrounded by so many animals meant that he needed help. It wasn’t good that man should be alone (Genesis 2:18); he needed a companion, a life mate. The farm was getting too big for one man. But this new creation didn’t come from the soil. Neither was it an animal. It was, like Adam, made in the image of God—a special creation, and it came as a special delivery. God Himself presented this present to him. It was different from the massive elephants, the tall giraffes, or the beautiful birds. It walked upright on two legs like him. It was made of the same flesh as Adam, but it had a different shape and look. Attractively different.

“How is it that a baby looks into the eyes of his parents? No one teaches him to do that. Why does he open his mouth and utter a cry to communicate need? So many things happen in life that don’t make sense.”

Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor could it enter into our imaginations what it was like in that garden, because our imaginations are based on what we know of this fallen world. But Eden must have been out of this world.

It would have been strange for Adam to have expressed himself from the moment of his creation, especially if he did it with no knowledge of the origin of his words. But even in our fallen state, we see minor miracles. How is it that a baby looks into the eyes of his parents? No one teaches him to do that. Why does he open his mouth and utter a cry to communicate need? So many things happen in life that don’t make sense. How is it that a child uses the word “actually”? It’s common to hear it. Most adults would hesitate to explain the use of the word if we were put on the spot. Yet a small child uses it in the correct context, without training.

But think of a man who has severe amnesia. He actually doesn’t remember anything—who he is or where he is from. As far as he is concerned, he didn’t exist until the moment he awoke from a coma. Yet he can actually express himself, and if he was educated, he does so with eloquent words. It does seem ridiculous that any man would have no knowledge that he could speak, and yet to his own amazement, he can speak and do so eloquently. Which is certainly compofluous—“something that seems ridiculous, and yet is a reality.”

Actually, I made up the word, and I’d be grateful if you would try to use it daily—which may seem ridiculous, but if enough people use it, it may become a reality. And that would be compofluous.

  1. Andy Bodle, “How New Words Are Born,” The Guardian, February 4, 2016 <tinyurl.com/yas6q6xr>.

Ray Comfort

Ray Comfort is the Founder and CEO of Living Waters and the bestselling author of more than 80 books, including God Has a Wonderful Plan for Your Life, How to Know God Exists, and The Evidence Bible. He cohosts the award-winning television program “Way of the Master,” seen in almost 200 countries, and is the Executive Producer of “180,” “Evolution vs. God,” “Audacity,” and other films. He is married to Sue and has three grown children, and hasn’t left the house without gospel tracts for decades.

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