Saturday, September 24, 2005

The Grammatical Structure of Non-Existent Words


The study of the syntax and grammar of non-existent words is a fascinating one, mainly because you are able to make it up as you go along. But you're never quite sure where you are with non-existent words, either ...

For instance, take the words:

and 'zenbusiance'.

A quick search on Dictionary demonstrates that they do not exist. What do they mean? We don't know. Are they really spelled that way? We can't say for sure. Where did they come from? Nobody knows.

You see, the trouble with non-existent words is that, not only are there an infinite amount of them out there to choose from, but there are an infinite amount of possible meanings out there to choose from as well. How can you choose? How is it possible to choose between them?

And these aren't the only non-existent words that we have to worry about. There are also those non-existent words that already exist, words that have already been made up by others or that are spelled in exactly the same way as currently existing words, but yet mean something completely different.
Into this category fall such words as:

and 'lissomed'.

The student of non-existent words, upon realising this, will often through up his or her hands in despair, and go back to writing miserable iambics on the back of his toilet paper. So much safer, you see. As well they might, because things just keep on getting more complicated.
What happens, for instance, when you put a whole load of non-existent words into a sentence? The grammatical problems encountered with the individual words are multiplied tenfold. And then, there are the problems you encounter when you write whole books consisting of made up words, phrases, and places. No writer has ever quite achieved this vertiginous feat, although many have tried. *

But then again, maybe we should leave the whole question of grammar to the experts, and get along with the altogether more amusing task of using the made up words.

One flubble day, I was angandering along the ustokula, when I was vlabled by a rather dambulous examiter. Needless to say, I was rather blustered, and the only word that I could think of was "Hasapopolous!"
It was a most champuling thing to have happen. And that, my dear astumate, is only the trongalop. Stranger things were soon to graspulade ...

Or maybe not.

Jorge Luis Borges, Labyrinths
Lewis Carroll, Collected Works
Douglas Adams, The Meaning of Liff
Mervyn Peake, Nonsense

* And let's not even begin on the subject of non-existent items of punctuation, such as the glinph, the reverted comma, the lyphen, the half-stop, the umpursand, the bloaph, the upper-lower-case heugh, and the repentage sign.


vague said...

Well, shilpher me squimbers! One day I will sschlurf down at my boxculous and compilate a list of bordinances for the use of non-existent punctution marks. It sounds like an obplurcation worth purvestigationing.

Misha said...

Maybe if more of us started using some of these words, they would be forced to include them in the next edition of the dictionary. For instance, i've quite taken a liking to "Hasapopolous", which to me could be used in a number of contexts.

If you start leaving some of these words around randomly on the internet (blogs, forums etc.) there is bound to be at least one person to pick up on it and start using it for themselves, thus spreading the usage.

Gotta love the innernets!

TimT said...

It's been known to happen, Misha! And anyway, good, honest, non-existent words are much easier to understand than some of the other guff that politicians and authorities come out with. I mean, when they start talking about 'the macro-economic structure of the whosiwhatnow', my eyes glaze over, and I start yawning inadvertently ...

Vague, I ambulously await the prelondering schmedition of Pleets, Schlutes and Bleeves, written by our favourite Zemblan mistress of grammatological scientificalism!

coffee and cigarettes said...

disgracious and grotsqueak are my two favourite made up words :-)

TimT said...

"Disgracious little grotsqueak". Heh heh. An excellent insult.

coffee and cigarettes said...

it does have a nice ring to it eh?

TimT said...

It would be a great way of insulting someone on your blog. I dare you to use it in your next post. I'm willing to pay you in quite substantial quantities of beer, if you do.

Email: timhtrain - at -

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