A new word in the vocabulary at my home is “somewhy.”  This is a word my young son has been using regularly, as if it is common in our lexicon.  The first time I heard him use it, I dismissed it.  The thirtieth time I heard it, I told him I was going to use it in a poem (which caused him to say Momma! in an irritated tone).  Even though the word is made-up, it makes sense in the way he uses it, such as, “Somewhy, even though my back isn’t sunburned, my shoulders still sting.”  OR, “Somewhy, when my friend J. talks during the movie, I get really annoyed.”  Now, in either case, one could replace “somewhy” with “for some reason” and the meaning is clear.  All this use of somewhy made my mind jump to made-up words in poetry.  I’m only going to hit on a few, but if you have some good ones, please share them.

The first one that comes to mind is “plashless.”  In her poem, “A Bird came down the Walk,” Emily Dickinson ends with “…Butterflies, off Banks of Noon / Leap, plashless as they swim.”  How lovely is that?  Of course, one can argue that this is a typo or misspelling on Emily’s part, but I think it is intentional because the butterflies are NOT splashing, but doing something quite more graceful — swimming without splashing….how lovely. 

One of my favorite poets, in the vein of “new formalism,” is A.E. Stallings.  In her kick-ass pantoum “Another Lullaby for Insomniacs” she uses the word “otherwhere.”  Now, technically, “otherwhere” IS a  word.  Look it up.  But, as you’ll see in the entry it is an archaic word, so it functions as a made-up word on the level of sounding so.  In short, this poem personifies Sleep in the form of an unhappy woman who wishes to be engaged.  But, with “no ring on her finger,” she, “tosses off the cover / And lays the darkness bare. /She has another lover. / Her heart is otherwhere.”

Recently I was reading Anne Carson, who writes of Emily Bronte in her poem, “The Glass Essay.”  If you have not read Carson, please do so.  Not only will you be reading one of the most intelligent poets writing today, you will learn something.  Being a classicist makes Carson interesting on many levels, one being that she reads the original text of what she writes.  In “The Glass Essay” the reader learns that Bronte used the following word: “whacher” — causing confusion and some editing challenges.  Carson then incorporates this made-up word in her own poem, such as with “…the work of whaching”  — something all good poets do.
Finally (and not to leave out the men) I will include two other made-up words that make me grin, the first being e. e. cummings “mud-luscious.”  “In Just- / spring   when the world is mud-/  luscious.”  When one reads this line, s/he asks, why isn’t mudluscious a word?  Because what cummings is writing of is so powerful and present, it is hard to imagine that he has conjured the word himself.
Another faux-word I stumbled upon not long ago is  “fungily.”  In Peter Meinke’s poem, “Assisted Living,” he writes of elderly people who are “like aluminum crickets” and are gathering on the ground floor into an elevator that is “going down.”  They “…wait / nodding fungily   for someone / to press our number.” 
As a poet, one of the most playful things we do is make-up a word when none other fits.  Somewhy, something tells me that you, too, have such a word in your mind right now…. scribble it down and don’t lose it — I’m sure it will come in handy.

6 thoughts on “SomeWhy

  1. I *love* the making up of words in poetry – I’m particularly fond of the way the ancient Greeks did it – “winedark sea” and the like. It feels like the evolution of language, to me, or that we are like physicists, smashing our atoms/words together to find new truths. Not all of them work, but occasionally you get something beautiful and unique, and you think, “Well, of course this should be a word. it’s perfect!”


  2. Rosemary,

    It’s good to see you championing the cause of made-up words. I think most writers self-censor any thoughts of that kind for fear of encountering the response, “What? You can’t do that. You can’t make up your own word.” Why not? If it’s done imaginatively, and in the same creative spirit as the examples you cite. I enjoyed your post!


  3. Lewis Carroll comes to mind with his “all mimsy were the borogroves” and Ogden Nash (silly and kitsch, but amusing):

    The wasp and all his numerous family
    I look upon as a major calamily.
    He throws open his nest with prodigality,
    But I distrust his waspitality.

    You are finding much treasure in the world of words. Your wealth grows every day.


  4. Rosemary, I made my first official word last summer while trying to find a word to describe the scent of basil. I could not find one or even several words combined that equaled the real scent of basil, so I made a word. “Cinnamon” and “anise” combined became “cinnise,” a new word that works for me. Happily, the poem, “Sweet Basil,” will be published August in “Wild Goose Poetry Review.”

    The new pleasure of making a new word certainly deserves a new word of its own to describe the process! What can it be?

    Thanks for your fun and informative blog!


  5. I am going to be brave and see if I, too, can make up a word that works.
    I do make up words all the time, but I am not sure they would hold up as well as the ones you mention here.
    Thanks for this post.


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