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Being a long-evolved language, missing definitions are rare within English. Nevertheless, meanings are sometimes missing, resulting in the formation of new words to fill those gaps. This occurs particularly where society or technology develops and new concepts arise requiring names or descriptions, such as the Internet or "gender fluid".

It is inevitable therefore, that within any place where discourse occurs, especially, where discourse takes place on the very topic of the English language, that new words will be brought forth from the void. Opinions about of what is the truth are not entirely absent from the choice of what to make truth and the act of creating future truth.

Where a meaning is missing from the language, I propose that henceforth it be considered on-topic on this site to discuss what would be an appropriate word, in the context of the language rules and structure, if such a word were to be brought into usage. By so doing, the site will be accepting the immutable reality that it is a participant in creation of the Lexicon, rather than deluding itself that it can be absent.

The specific case which motivated this meta post is the word propriogenophobia which I hereby propose was brought forth from the void this very week on this very site, and was added to the lexicon this very day. To argue (as a user does) that "strings not in the lexicon, are expressly off-topic on ELU" is therefore a policy fatally wounded by the Observer’s Paradox.

I call upon you, by the power of your votes, to attest to the futility of the aforementioned policy.

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  • As an influence on culture, especially word acceptance and neologisms, ELU is nowhere near the top of the list. The coding sites for computer programming practices, definitely. But not ELU. No one checks if a word has been voted on on ELU. First stop is Urban Dictionary then, -maybe-, Wiktionary. ELU? Just not that important.
    – Mitch
    Jan 3 at 15:22
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    Neologism suggestions are generally off-topic, that's just the built up culture here (usually because judging them is very opinion-based, which is a general stated no-go for StackExchange. Sometimes they are allowed if asked in a non-opinion-seeking manner.
    – Mitch
    Jan 3 at 15:24
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    There is no such things as words "brought forth from the void". It is real people who make up words. (Let's put AI aside for the purposes of this issue on Meta here.) Once a person makes up a word, it exists literally. So let's be clear about that. Now, we can talk about this pro or con.
    – Lambie
    Jan 8 at 14:54
  • @Lambie I brought forth from the void the phrase "brought forth from the void" and it means made up. Jan 9 at 10:08
  • @it'sahirecarbaby It's last I looked speaking beings make stuff up in their brains before they say whatever it is. I understand what you mean and disagree with the metaphor.
    – Lambie
    Jan 9 at 14:20
  • @Lambie I'm guessing you think all things are constructed out of component parts which previously existed, which probably makes you a determinist and that's a perfectly good philosophy albeit scientifically untenable, in particular in relation to the questions of the big bang, where did the universe come from and whether we have freedom of choice. I'm fine with that worldview and I wouldn't insist it was wrong, in the way you seem to be insisting the converse is wrong, by "disagreeing with the metaphor". Jan 9 at 14:32
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    @it'sahirecarbaby You cannot invent words unless you already have language. last time I looked, To extrapolate a world view from that fact is untenable and specious.
    – Lambie
    Jan 9 at 14:38
  • @Lambie the capacity of one person to reliably judge another person's extrapolation skills is restricted by the Dunning Kruger problem, which you judge to be oriented in a certain direction and I judge to be oriented in another. Jan 9 at 15:11
  • @it'sahirecarbaby I can see you will say whatever it takes to avoid my argument. It is untenable and specious to imagine a person inventing words who has no previous language. (And it's Dunning Kruger effect, by the way.) What I said here would be agreed to by any reasonable person. This is not about "judging a person's extrapolation skills". It's about basic knowledge of human/natural language and not acting trump-like.
    – Lambie
    Jan 9 at 15:35
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    @Lambie and yet there was once no language and then there was some language - an obvious counterexample to your argument. You're also wrong about Dunning-Kruger effect being the Dunning-Kruger problem. It's not. The Dunning-Kruger problem, is the problem I referred to above, arising out of the Dunning-Kruger effect. I'm not sure what this degree of attempted pernicketiness is doing to advance your life but I'm not going to reply to you any more and I'm going to mute you now. Goodbye. Jan 9 at 17:23
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    @it'sahirecarbaby Oh my god, you said, not me: the Dunning-Kruger problem. persnickety is the word: persnicketiness.
    – Lambie
    Jan 9 at 17:29
  • Being a long-evolved language, missing definitions are rare within English. = FALSE as in TRUE or FALSE.
    – Lambie
    Jan 20 at 17:16

2 Answers 2

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There are two aspects to this question. On one side, it is a proposal that this site embrace the questions that call for creation of entirely new words from scratch, and the answers that create them. On the other, it invites more general reflection about the role that this site plays in the development of the language.

So far as the first aspect is concerned, I assume that most of the regular contributors would summarily reject it. As Mitch said in a comment, 'that's just the built up culture here'. There is well-founded fear among the regular contributors that allowing such questions would lead to the site's being overwhelmed by overly creative, whimsical proposals and that this would make the site less useful for the purposes that it now serves. I would just add two qualifications to that. First, attaching established prefixes and suffixes to established words should not be regarded as creation of new words that would put the answers that contain them off topic, when the result would be readily understood by those who are familiar with its components. (Whether that applies to the particular answer that prompted this meta-question is best left for the comments below that answer.) Second, a freshly-coined (non)word may appear in an answer if it is not the core of the answer, but incidental to a discussion of the existing words (e.g. an answer might say 'X and Y come closest to what the question seeks, but for such-and-such reasons, neither of them is exactly right; Z would be the ideal word for the purpose, but unfortunately nobody uses it'). I believe that these two qualifications fit the prevailing practices on this site.

As for the more general question about the influence of this site on the development of English language, although that influence is undoubtedly modest, we need to face the fact that to some small extent it does exist, and accept the responsibility for it. The pages of this site often appear among the first results that general-purpose search engines produce when somebody runs a search on an English idiom or a feature of English grammar. Some of the pages of this site have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times; many have been viewed tens of thousands of times. Admittedly, even a million of views amounts to only a small percentage of the total number of the speakers of English, but such numbers are not negligible, particularly when one takes into account that they include quite a few by those who are themselves involved in writing, editing, translating, or teaching, and therefore likely to spread the influence of this site to those who do not visit it themselves.

The role of this site in the development of the language is implied by the overall aims of the Stack Exchange system as a whole. The sites of the system are intended to be places for articulation of the contributors' own expertise, that goes beyond what can be found elsewhere. The insistence of some regular contributors to this site on the Wikipedia-style requirement that everything posted be a repackaging of the stuff published elsewhere would put this site at odds with the rest of the Stack Exchange system.

The site is particularly well positioned to take note of the emerging new words, and the emerging new patterns of usage of existing words, before they find their way into commercially published dictionaries. The fact that the contributions to this site do not go through the many layers of 'quality control' that characterise the production of a commercial dictionary, is in many obvious ways its weakness, but it is also its strength, as it makes it possible for the site to respond to the developments of the language more quickly. (That is admittedly also true of the Urban Dictionary, but the culture of this site tends to make the answers that appear on it more thoughtful and more responsibly formulated than what can be found in the entirely free-for-all Urban Dictionary.)

Now, an act of noting a new feature of the language is bound to have both descriptivist and prescriptivist aspects. A new feature of the language cannot be noted unless it already exists, and it can thus be said that in noting it one is simply reflecting something that is already 'out there' in the world. That is the descriptivist side of the act. But in noting something as an emerging feature of the language, one is also exercising a judgement that it is a feature of the language, rather than a mere mistake, or one person's peculiar quirk, or a part of one family's idiolect, or a part of one organisation's internal communication system. That is the unavoidable prescriptivist side of the act of noting and describing a new feature of the language, even when performed by a sworn descriptivist (as most of the regular contributors to this site are). Whenever somebody posts an answer on this site that describes some emerging new feature of the language, a small contribution is made to increasing its circulation. That is a way in which this site does influence the language, and it calls for great care in deciding which questions about new words to answer and which to close and eventually delete. It also call for carefully qualifying the answers that one does post about the emerging new feature of the language (by saying e.g. 'this usage will be understood only in such-and-such circles' or 'this usage is widespread, but potentially misleading because . . .').

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  • "we need to face the fact that to some small extent it does exist": In fact an individual may be using the answers received on this site as part of the decision whether or not to bring something into usage themselves. I agree with what I think you're saying here, that the restriction to descriptivism should be the default, with prescriptivism broadly speaking the exception but not completely excluded, and care taken when it is allowed. Jan 6 at 10:59
  • Prescriptivism is about language usage and norms. Not about invention and creativity in language. If you look at Alice in Wonderland, it is all very grammatical but full of invented words.
    – Lambie
    Jan 9 at 14:42
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No, Incorrect in the sense the poster appears to intend.

SE is a question and answer site with a particular clearly defined format that is fundamental to the way it works. This is explained in the Tour, where one can find:

“Not all questions work well in our format. Avoid questions that are primarily opinion-based, or that are likely to generate discussion rather than answers.”

What the poster proposes clearly fails into this category.

It should be added that SE ELU does not exclude the evolution of the language (‘sociocultural’ or otherwise, if indeed there is an otherwise) as it has happened, and there is frequent objective discussion of such topics. What it is not, is an academy for inventing new words, and it shows a lack of understanding of the way language evolves to think that such activity here or elsewhere would be anything other than a complete waste of time.

Postscript
“I call upon you, by the power of your votes”. I would suggest that the votes of the readers of this question (so far –1 for the question and 4 for the two answers) have absolutely no power. As far as I am aware the only power votes on meta have is to elect moderators. The moderators may, on occasions, be influenced by the expression of an opinion here that has a large support, but acting on this is another matter. SE, in general, and SE ELU has certain principles which have been arrived at with considerable deliberation and are unlikely to be changed lightly.

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  • Regarding the postscript: while it is true that the votes on this or any other meta-question do not directly change anything, it may be an overstatement to say the they 'have absolutely no power'. Significant support for or opposition to a view expressed on a meta-page does provide some indication of the prevailing views among the regular contributors to the site (i.e. among those who feel that they have enough of a stake in it to pay attention to the meta-questions), and that does influence those who are trying to respect the culture of the site (and not only its explicit rules).
    – jsw29
    Jan 15 at 21:19
  • “I call upon you, by the power of your votes” - that makes me itch to issue a downvote! The other thing that does that is comments by OPs whining about downvotes. Feb 4 at 12:25

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