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  • I'm a lexicographer.

  • I make dictionaries.

  • And my job as a lexicographer

  • is to try to put all the words possible into the dictionary.

  • My job is not to decide what a word is; that is your job.

  • Everybody who speaks English decides together

  • what's a word and what's not a word.

  • Every language is just a group of people who agree to understand each other.

  • Now, sometimes when people are trying to decide whether a word is good or bad,

  • they don't really have a good reason.

  • So they say something like, "Because grammar!"

  • (Laughter)

  • I don't actually really care about grammar too much -- don't tell anybody.

  • But the word "grammar," actually, there are two kinds of grammar.

  • There's the kind of grammar that lives inside your brain,

  • and if you're a native speaker of a language

  • or a good speaker of a language,

  • it's the unconscious rules that you follow when you speak that language.

  • And this is what you learn when you learn a language as a child.

  • And here's an example:

  • This is a wug, right?

  • It's a wug.

  • Now there is another one.

  • There are two of these.

  • There are two ...

  • Audience: Wugs.

  • Erin McKean: Exactly! You know how to make the plural of wug.

  • That rule lives in your brain.

  • You never had to be taught this rule, you just understand it.

  • This is an experiment that was invented by a professor at [Boston College]

  • named Jean Berko Gleason back in 1958.

  • So we've been talking about this for a long time.

  • Now, these kinds of natural rules that exist in your brain,

  • they're not like traffic laws, they're more like laws of nature.

  • And nobody has to remind you to obey a law of nature, right?

  • When you leave the house in the morning, your mom doesn't say,

  • "Hey, honey, I think it's going to be cold, take a hoodie,

  • don't forget to obey the law of gravity."

  • Nobody says this.

  • Now, there are other rules that are more about manners than they are about nature.

  • So you can think of a word as like a hat.

  • Once you know how hats work,

  • nobody has to tell you, "Don't wear hats on your feet."

  • What they have to tell you is, "Can you wear hats inside?

  • Who gets to wear a hat?

  • What are the kinds of hats you get to wear?"

  • Those are more of the second kind of grammar,

  • which linguists often call usage, as opposed to grammar.

  • Now, sometimes people use this kind of rules-based grammar

  • to discourage people from making up words.

  • And I think that is, well, stupid.

  • So, for example, people are always telling you,

  • "Be creative, make new music, do art, invent things, science and technology."

  • But when it comes to words, they're like,

  • "Don't! No. Creativity stops right here, whippersnappers. Give it a rest."

  • (Laughter)

  • But that makes no sense to me.

  • Words are great. We should have more of them.

  • I want you to make as many new words as possible.

  • And I'm going to tell you six ways that you can use to make new words in English.

  • The first way is the simplest way.

  • Basically, steal them from other languages.

  • ["Go rob other people"] (Laughter)

  • Linguists call this borrowing,

  • but we never give the words back , so I'm just going to be honest

  • and call it stealing.

  • We usually take words for things that we like, like delicious food.

  • We took "kumquat" from Chinese, we took "caramel" from French.

  • We also take words for cool things like "ninja," right?

  • We took that from Japanese,

  • which is kind of a cool trick because ninjas are hard to steal from.

  • (Laughter)

  • So another way that you can make words in English

  • is by squishing two other English words together.

  • This is called compounding.

  • Words in English are like Lego:

  • If you use enough force, you can put any two of them together.

  • (Laughter)

  • We do this all the time in English:

  • Words like "heartbroken," "bookworm," "sandcastle" all are compounds.

  • So go ahead and make words like "duckface," just don't make duckface.

  • (Laughter)

  • Another way that you can make words in English is kind of like compounding,

  • but instead you use so much force when you squish the words together

  • that some parts fall off.

  • So these are blend words,

  • like "brunch" is a blend of "breakfast" and "lunch."

  • "Motel" is a blend of "motor" and "hotel."

  • Who here knew that "motel" was a blend word?

  • Yeah, that word is so old in English

  • that lots of people don't know that there are parts missing.

  • "Edutainment" is a blend of "education" and "entertainment."

  • And of course, "electrocute" is a blend of "electric" and "execute."

  • (Laughter)

  • You can also make words by changing how they operate.

  • This is called functional shift.

  • You take a word that acts as one part of speech,

  • and you change it into another part of speech.

  • Okay, who here knew that "friend" hasn't always been a verb?

  • "Friend" used to be a noun and then we verbed it.

  • Almost any word in English can be verbed.

  • You can also take adjectives and make them into nouns.

  • "Commercial" used to be an adjective and now it's a noun.

  • And of course, you can "green" things.

  • Another way to make words in English is back-formation.

  • You can take a word and you can kind of squish it down a little bit.

  • So for example, in English we had the word "editor" before we had the word "edit."

  • "Edit" was formed from "editor."

  • Sometimes these back-formations sound a little silly:

  • Bulldozers bulldoze, butlers butle and burglers burgle.

  • (Laughter)

  • Another way to make words in English

  • is to take the first letters of something and squish them together.

  • So National Aeronautics and Space Administration becomes NASA.

  • And of course you can do this with anything, OMG!

  • So it doesn't matter how silly the words are.

  • They can be really good words of English.

  • "Absquatulate" is a perfectly good word of English.

  • "Mugwump" is a perfectly good word of English.

  • So the words don't have have to sound normal, they can sound really silly.

  • Why should you make words?

  • You should make words because every word

  • is a chance to express your idea and get your meaning across.

  • And new words grab people's attention.

  • They get people to focus on what you're saying

  • and that gives you a better chance to get your meaning across.

  • A lot of people on this stage today have said,

  • "In the future, you can do this,

  • you can help with this, you can help us explore, you can help us invent."

  • You can make a new word right now.

  • English has no age limit.

  • Go ahead, start making words today,

  • send them to me, and I will put them in my online dictionary, Wordnik.

  • Thank you so much.

  • (Applause)

I'm a lexicographer.

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A2 US TED grammar blend laughter squish language

【TED】Erin McKean: Go ahead, make up new words! (Erin McKean: Go ahead, make up new words!)

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    CUChou posted on 2015/01/17
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