Making Up New Words to Go with your New Worlds

I just finished a sci-fi novel entitled The Empress of Mars. There were many things I liked about it, and one of the things that the author, Kage Baker, managed particularly well was naming all those imaginary new technologies that appear in the story.

Almost all sci-fi stories describe hi-tech gadgets, and if those gadgets are new to your imaginary realm, you have to name them. One of the challenges is naming them in a way that evokes the item’s function, but doesn’t sound too similar to either real-world objects and those that inhabit other author’s books. And you’d better not trample on anyone’s trademark, either. Sometimes you read a book, and you’re lost by the new vocabulary, or it’s clunky and sounds artificial. Ms. Baker did an excellent job of naming things in ways made sense, yet seemed exotic enough to flesh out a new planet, many years in the future.
I have always been the type that makes up words. Long before Frindle, I would spout strange new words that never appeared in a dictionary or thesaurus, but which better described items or behaviors than any word that does. My specialty is turning nouns into verbs, and vice versa. However, my newest invention is “shadebathing.” It is intended to describe the behavior of one of my children, who on a hot day will run into a bit of shade, plotz, and stretch out to cool off, no matter how inconvenient the time or place.
I’m blessed that one of my children has followed in my footsteps. For example, he thinks that the phrase “crime-ridden” should be replaced by the descriptor “crimey.” I voiced the objection that this is too close to the word “criminy,” but he remains unconcerned. “No one knows that word anymore, Ima. Or if they do, they sure don’t use it.”
Naming characters and locations has always been relatively easy for me. I can just make up anything, no rules. However, when you name your fictional gadget, as I mentioned above, you need to balance familiarity with novelty. I find this much tougher. In the novel I’m writing now, I keep picking names for things, then feeling the need to relabel them.
Thank G-d for “Find and Replace!” I seem to be employing it a lot lately.

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