Language Making in Action

I was planning to have my first blog posting provide more background on the book. But over the past week I've been posting a "Nature word of the day" on my Facebook page and today there was an event that was such a perfect example of language making at work that I have to share it instead.

Today's nature word was ASTRIFUGUS, a Medieval Latin word meaning "putting the stars to flight." Now, I love this definition but I don't have a clue what it means so I asked people on Facebook what they thought.

I was seeing the word as meaning that something was acting on the stars so I thought the word might refer to sunrise and the way the rising sun puts stars "to flight." And the first person to respond to my post thought the same thing. Then another person pointed out that "astrifugal phenomena" refers to comets and shooting stars, which flipped the idea around because now it seemed like the stars were the ones doing the acting (taking "flight"). Then someone else looked up a formal dictionary definition ("the star expelling") and contributed that.

So those were all perfect responses to a question about a word's meaning, but then things got really interesting because we were all thinking about this word's meaning and getting more curious. We had a suggestion that "astrifugus" might remind us of fireworks or sparks from a fire. Someone else riffed on the idea that a flight of starlings (the birds) could be an astrifugal phenomena. And someone else suggested that the idea reminded them of blowing on a dandelion seed head, which led us of the word "aster" (the flower) and then to the idea that dandelions and asters might be given the new name "astrifuges" or even "asterfuges."

So here, in a few hours, a community of people spontaneously riffing together went from an obscure medieval word through a series of increasingly poetic associations to a potential new word for a common flower. This might have been nothing more than a playful experiment at word-making, or it might have created a word that a handful of people start using and then more people start using.

THIS IS LANGUAGE MAKING AT WORK!!! This is where it gets exciting and playful and fun; and where writers, artists, and thinkers will get great new material--which is exactly why I wrote this book!!!