The Invention of New Words

Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini, de Puerorum Educatione:

“‘Ordinary words’ are those which are worn out by common use, and we can use these safely. Cicero said that those words which were formerly hard are softened by use – in his own time, people needed no great store of boldness to say ‘urbane’ nor, in Quintillian’s lifetime, to say ‘piratical.’ Who among the ancients would have said, ‘scandal’ or ‘Hell’? But reading the Gospel has given us these. That saying of Horace has been proven,

‘Many words which have now fallen out of use will be reborn, and those which now occupy a place of honor will fall if it should be so decreed by common use, in whose power lie the judgment, law, and norm of speaking.’

‘Invented’ words are those which someone coins for himself, as we find in Horace ‘he enemies cities,’ that is to say, ‘he makes cities enemies.’ He seems also to have invented a word in another place, ‘he retarded the wings of flying fate,’ which means he delayed them. Servius says that it was formerly the custom of priests to be ‘emasculated’ so that they could no longer have sex. This word is formed from ‘ex masculo.’ But it is not for just anyone to invent new words. As Horace says,

‘It has been and always will be allowed to pull out a name with present fame. As the forests with their leaves fall away into the next year, and the first words fall, so the old use of words perishes and in the manner of youth, possess a certain bloom and vigor when they are new.’

The task is to be delegated to those who have already made a great name for themselves in speaking and writing, like Terence, who first wrote ‘obsequium’ and Messala, who invented ‘reatus,’ and Augustus, who thought up ‘munerarii.’ Those who are endowed with a more middling intellect will need, not to invent new words, but to use the old ones. Yet in all words, whether they be new or ancient, ours or foreign, direct or metaphorical, there will be no honor or praise unless they are well suited to the subject.”

‘Usitata’ sunt verba, quae communi teruntur usu et his tutius uti possumus. Cicero dicit, quae primo dura fuerunt, usu molliri, nec tempore suo satis audacter ‘urbanum’ dicebant, nec vivo Quintiliano ‘piraticam;’ at haec hodie trita sunt. Quis antiquorum vel ‘scandalum’ vel ‘gehennam’ dixisset? Sed ista nobis evangelica lectio tradidit. Hinc illud Horatii verum traditur:

Multa renascentur, quae iam ceciderunt, cadentque
Quae nunc sunt in honore vocabula, si volet usus
Quem penes arbitrium est et ius et norma loquendi.

‘Ficta’ vocabula sunt, quae sibi quisque noviter fingit, ut apud Horatium, ‘inimicat urbes,’ hoc est, ‘inimicas facit.’ Idem quoque verbum fingere videtur alio loco, ‘volucrisque fati tardavit alas,’ hoc est ‘distulit.’ Servius ait quibusdam herbis olim sacerdotes ‘emasculari’ fuisse moris, ut amplius coire non possent. Verbum est ‘ex masculo’ fictum. Sed non licet omnibus nova fingere verba. Quod enim ait Flaccus:

Licuit semperque licebit
Signatum praesente nota producere nomen.
Ut silvae foliis pronos mutantur in annos,
Prima cadunt: ita verborum vetus interit usus
Et iuvenum ritu florent modo nata vigentque.

Ad eos referendum est, qui iam orando atque scribendo magnum sibi nomen fecerunt, sicut Terentius, qui primus dixit ‘obsequium’ et ‘reatus’ inventor Messala, ac ‘munerarii’ excogitator Augustus. Qui mediocri sunt ingenio non invenire vocabula, sed inventis uti debebunt. In omnibus autem verbis, sive nova sint sive antiqua, sive nostra sive aliena, sive propria sive translata, nullus honos fuerit nullaque laus, nisi bene rebus accomodentur. Cumque duo sunt tantundem significantia, eo uti praestat, quod melius sonet et facilius intelligatur, ut ‘beatitudinem’ quam ‘beatitem’ potius dicas.

Leave a Reply