ROOT-CREATION

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ROOT-CREATION. A term in WORD-FORMATION for the creation of a new ROOT, BASE, or simple WORD. The process is rare compared with compounding and derivation, and is divided into motivated root-creation and ex nihilo root-creation. By and large, motivated root-creation (in which a reason can be given for the formation of an item) is ad hoc and echoic, the new form resembling one or more pre-existing forms. As with cuckoo, the new form may represent a real or imagined sound: zap the noise made by a ray-gun, vroom the sound of a powerful engine. By retaining the consonants and varying the vowel, a word like splash can be adapted to splish, splosh, sploosh, splush. In addition, a new form may be a reversal, an anagram, or some other adaptation of a pre-existing form. In ex-nihilo root-creation, however, there appears to be no lexicological way of accounting for the formation of a word: it has no known precursors, as with the trade name Kodak (invented in the US in 1888 by George Eastman) and the number googol (invented on request by a 9-year-old boy).

Although rare in general usage, ex-nihilo forms are common in fiction, and especially fantasy, in which writers often seek to escape the bonds of their language: Robert A. Heinlein's Martian word grok suggests empathy and understanding: ‘the ungrokkable vastness of ocean’ (Stranger in a Strange Land, 1961). When sets of words are coined in a fantasy, however, escape from some degree of motivation is unlikely: for example, in Edgar Rice Burroughs's adventure novel Tarzan at the Earth's Core (1929), the inner world of Pellucidar is peopled by such creatures as the anagrammatic tarag and jalok (variants of tiger and jackal), the thag (a primeval ox, echoing stag), the sagoth (a gorilla-like hominid, echoing and perhaps blending savage and Goth), and the clipped horib (a snake-like being overtly referred to as horrid and horrible). The limits of actual or apparent root-creation are hard to establish, because it shades into such conventional processes of word-formation as turning names into words (Hoover becoming to hoover a rug), blending (smog from smoke and fog), and abbreviation (mob from mobile vulgus). A classic clipping is tawdry, from tawdrie lace (16c), in turn from Seynt Audries lace, as sold at St Audrey's Fair at Ely in East Anglia (Audrey in turn being a Normanization of Anglo-Saxon Etheldreda). Such creations can reasonably be identified as ‘roots’ because they can and often do become the foundations of more complex forms, such as Hoovermatic, Kodachrome, mobster, smog-bound, and tawdriness. See ECHOISM, NEOLOGISM, ONOMATOPOEIA, PHONAESTHESIA.