Monday, February 13, 2012

A Real Word

A student just came up to me after class and asked 

Is 'technocrat' a real word, or did someone just make it up?

I explained to him that the answer to his question is 'yes' because the answer to both parts is 'yes'. 'Technocrat' is a real word, and someone just made it up. This is true of every single word in our language. Someone invented the word at some point on the past, and it became a real word whenever enough people used it and knew what it meant.

Now, it is a linguistic bastard of a word, because it combines an English prefix and a Greek suffix, but a great deal of English vocabulary was constructed in a similar way. Our language does not really follow any rules other than popularity.

This leads to thoughts of what makes a thing 'real' in a social setting. His question implies that 'reality' in language is defined by some authority. In France it is. They have an official committee that decides what words can be used. This means that French is a more beautiful and logical language than English, but that the French are utterly incapable of succinctly expressing modern concepts like 'weekend' and 'internet' without using English.

There is actually a good lesson there about emergent order versus central planning.

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