Top Ten Tuesday: (Re-)Invented Language

the-code-of-the-woostersThe eponymous hero of E. Lockhart’s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks discovers ‘new’ or forgotten words in the works of P. G. Wodehouse (Jeeves and Wooster stories). She’s so delighted by the invention of ‘gruntled’ as a ‘neglected positive’ (i.e., a negative word (disgruntled) made positive; neglected, because it no longer is or isn’t actually a word) that she throws all sorts of neglected positives into her language. She felt gruntled after a kiss, for example.

P. G. Wodehouse is famed for his playful word use, but who else are our favourites? Here’s a Top Ten Tuesday of invented language. (NB I’m going for word play here, rather than complete made-up languages like Elvish or Dothraki.)


1. My favourite is the Nadsat slang used in CLOCKWORK ORANGE. It’s so densely used in the book, yet so well crafted that you very quickly get to understand what you’re reading despite the almost nonsensical words. And I still use ‘horrorshow’ for ‘great, wonderful’ in my interior language.


2. The Iremonger family of Edward Carey’s IREMONGER series have their own special turn of phrase, unique to just the family. Things are just slightly off, enough to disarm but not confuse. The hero Clod would, in our world, be called Claud; Rosamud be Rosamund, and Pinalippy, Penelope.


3. The opening lines of chapter one of THE WIND SINGER by William Nicholson, a totally invented language that you know exactly what’s happening. (Swearing!) It’s brilliant. – Sara 


4. Russell Hoban’s brilliant RIDDLEY WALKER is set in a post-apocalyptic world where language too has been shattered and rescued, so there are some lovely mutations like England becoming Inland. – Ruth


5. Not to just plug our own books but ‘frick-fracking hell’ (from MAGGOT MOON) has become a much-used part of my lexicon! – Naomi

alice-in-wonderland-book-cover6. Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky from THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS is all made-up and does the very clever job where, if you listen too hard you have no idea what it’s on about, but if you turn off your ears and listen with your heart, it makes a kind of sense.

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
  Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
  And the mome raths outgrabe.

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7. THE GOFFINS by Jeanne Willis are a family living secretly in George’s attic and accordingly all their names derive from their attic life: daughter Eave, brother Arch, father Lofty, uncle Garret, Chimbley the pigeon and Rufus the squirrel. Living separately from our normal daily life, have their own delightful take on English, which usually work better than boring old standard English. My favourite is ‘complicockled’ for ‘complicated’.


8. Newspeak in George Orwell’s NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR is a less delightful but all the more compelling re-created language. It’s a black-and-white, on-or-off language leaving no room for shades of meaning. ‘Bad’ has been banished in favour of ‘ungood’. There’s ‘goodthink’ and ‘crimethink’. (My autocorrect tried to put spaces in between those conflated words, so thankfully Newspeak hasn’t actually made it out of fiction.) (Yet.)


9.  Lapine is the language Richard Adams imagined rabbits would speak in his 1972 novel WATERSHIP DOWN. Adams wanted it to sound ‘wuffy, fluffy’ like he imaged rabbits would sound. So, ‘flay’ for ‘food’, ‘pfeffa’ for ‘cat’, ‘thlay’ for ‘fur’. And tissues for the Bright Eyes part.

10. Hayley Long’s reinvented words in her forthcoming SOPHIE SOMEONE (September 2015). Who can resist ‘heater’ for ‘heart’, ‘pigeon’ for ‘person’, ‘helix’ for ‘head’ and ‘freckle’ for ‘friend’? Oh, and some amazing storytelling, too . . . “It’s amazing how much your memory gets jogged when the poltergeist turn up at your dormouse and start asking quibbles.” – Emma

Did we miss any? Let us know in a comment or on Twitter @HotKeyBooks!