Tag Archives: language

My January invention challenge: a word a day

In the second half of 2014, a good friend of mine (and a fantastic designer – check out his stuff) set out on a challenge: to master a new 3D image tool by creating a new image every day for 100 days. It was a huge success. I’ve rather over-simplified that, but the thing that really got my attention was doing something every day until you’re great at it.

WordsI’m not a designer, but one thing I’m very interested in is the design of words. Contrary to popular belief, language does evolve; we can shape the future of our words and their usage. People – me included – are hesitant to do this. But you know what? I think it’s time to get inventive with the alphabet and inject some creativity into our words. One person who can wax lyrical on this topic is the wonderful Erin McKean – lexicographer and maker of online dictionary Wordnik.

In her TED talk, Erin explains that we should invent new words because “every word is a chance to express your idea and get your meaning across. And new words grab people’s attention.” I completely agree. Creating a new word has been on my to do list (silly, I know) for years and I’ve always avoided it. Not any more.

In January 2015 I’m challenging myself to create a new word every day. I’ll be honing my word inventing skills using a variety of techniques, including the six that Erin shares in her talk:

  1. Stealing – from other languages, e.g. kumquat, ninja
  2. Compounding – squishing words together, e.g. bookworm, sandcastle
  3. Blending – squishing words together with force, e.g. brunch, electrocute
  4. Functionally shifting – verbing, e.g. friend (used to be a noun); or nouning, e.g. commercial (used to be an adjective)
  5. Back forming – creating a smaller word from an existing one, e.g. edit (came after editor) and burgle (came after burglar)
  6. Creating an acronym (acronate? Acronomize?) – making a word from the first letter of a series of words, e.g. Nasa, omg

I’m not going to challenge myself to 100 new words, and I’m not under any illusion that I’ll get good at inventing words during the course of this challenge. Instead, my aim is to break out of my avoidance and fear of word creation, and to have some fun.

So every day in January 2015 I’ll make up a new word. I’m going to need your help, so I’ll share my words on social media and ask for your opinions. I might even do a weekly vote for the best word.

Keep your eyes peeled – the first word will appear on 1 January 2015!


Enable or allow? Why you need to get it right.

There are some important things to say about enable and allow – two words involved in one of the most common mistakes made in business communication. For starters:

They are different words with different meanings.

This might seem simple enough, but it is being disregarded left, right and centre in the world of business. How many times have you seen an advert that promises ‘this new thing allows you to be happier/richer/taller than ever before’? Allows? No.

Allow is another way of saying permit. Your parents allow you to stay up late at the weekend. Your boss allows you to leave the office early.

Enable is defined as providing with the means or opportunity. A mobile phone enables you to talk on the move. A blog enables you to rant about bad grammar.

Quite different. The problem is that they get mixed up all the time. A new product doesn’t give you permission to do something. It might help you do something, or facilitate that action (i.e. enable) but it doesn’t give you permission (i.e. allow). I’ll say it again:

They are different words with different meanings.

But if it’s truly too difficult to select the appropriate word, there is an alternative – a word that is a synonym for enable and allow: let. Let means permit and facilitate – and it’s nice and simple.

So if you can’t decide whether to use enable or allow, use let instead. Maybe we should all use it anyway, it’s far more straightforward.