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This question arose from another question I asked on the English Language & Usage Stack: "Is there a specific name for that singular exhalation laugh that happens when you read something only slightly funny?" The answers given on that question lead me to believe that there is currently no word that fits precisely with the action I am describing. So, this led me to wonder, is it better to create an entirely new word, or simply add a new connotation to an existing word, or does it even matter?

For an answer, I would PREFER some type of research that tested people's responses to new words and/or connotations. Alternatively, any explanation by any type of authority in writing, whether a distinguished academic and/or author will do. If this cannot be done, opinions by any writing academic or published author will work. I would like to avoid answers that are the mere opinions of the answerer, unless you also fit one of the previous descriptions.

I suspect that it does not really matter. In either case, you will have to provide clear context clues, or explicit definitions the first time the new word or connotation is used, so the words will have the same function regardless, but I would like to know if there is any established thought on the matter.

As for what I have done to answer this question, I first tried several different searches on Google Scholar, but I think there is something wrong with the vocabulary I am using, because nothing relevant comes up. When I try Googling various related phrases, the only things that come up are (1) articles explaining what connotation is, (2) articles explaining various methods for how to create words, or similarly, (3) articles explaining how new words are created. For an example of the first, Google virtually any short phrase with the word connotation in it, apparently it is not a well- known word. For the second, see this WikiHow. For the third, this Guardian article is the best example. None of these examples (or the several dozens of others I checked) answer the question as to whether its better to create a new word or a new connotation.

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  • If you’re aiming to have your invention adopted by any kind of wider community, I have bad news for you: once a very small fraction of intentionally spawned neologisms ever catch on. Oct 24, 2023 at 1:20

2 Answers 2

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It is better not to create either.

He let out a single huff, half amused.

Use the language as is. Invented words are for invented things that need names. Invented towns, invented religions, invented machines like a "warp drive".

If you were talking about an invented alien species that showed this behavior, I could understand.

I would reject writing that just invents new English words because they cannot express themselves in plain English.

It is important to understand that people that read for entertainment do not mind reading. They aren't trying to save time or get through your story quickly. Use as many words as you need to convey what you want to say.

If there is no single word, then use ten. Or twenty, if you think it is important to capture this precise behavior.

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  • Not disagreeing, but what if it's a common trait of a main character, and it turns into a Goosebumps/Hardy Boys series of books, so it's used several dozens of times, should you find a novel way of describing it each time or could a new word be helpful? Also, what you are describing is adding a new, positive, amused connotation to the word "huff". So, you're suggesting adding a new connotation to existing words over new words. Oct 23, 2023 at 20:58
  • @JimmyG. A character who huffs or snorts or whatever constantly will quickly become irritating to the readers. Think of all the sniffing, skirt smoothing, and braid tugging in The Wheel of Time.
    – Ben
    Oct 23, 2023 at 21:28
  • I am not saying constantly, but it could be a couple or few times every book. And, over 160 books, such as the boxcar children, describing this character trait each time could be tedious, no? Oct 23, 2023 at 21:40
  • @JimmyG. No, I don't think so. You describe it once or twice. Then use a shorthand, if it is habit for a character. So "James huffed his half laugh." The more you demand readers memorize new information (like a new word), the less entertaining and publishable your story becomes. This is the same reason we say "Show, don't Tell." Telling is asking readers to memorize something, and there is a limit to their capacity before they give up on your story. Even though "Showing" takes longer than "telling", always Show if you can. Readers of fiction do not mind reading. Don't worry about "tedious."
    – Amadeus
    Oct 24, 2023 at 12:10
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    @JimmyG. In non-humorous adult fiction the person's character trait that shows itself repeatedly over the course of 160 books isn't "that singular exhalation laugh that happens when you read something only slightly funny". How often does your character read something slightly funny in your story? Hopefully not more often than once. The character trait is something like not finding everything funny, and that can show itself through different situations and behaviors. Don't be repetitive, unless you write humorous books and want it to be a running gag.
    – Ben
    Oct 24, 2023 at 13:05
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I endorse the answer by Amadeus. The following are some additional thoughts on why his answer is the correct one.

You are looking for research on a writing technique that does not exist. Writers do not create neologisms to express meanings for which we have no words, therefore there is no research on it.

With rare exceptions (all of which fall in the realm of experimental writing) writers use the language as it is. The reason for this is simple. When you create a neologism or use an existing word with a new meaning, your readers cannot understand what you want to say.

Here is an example:

Reading the newspaper, John fnuffed.

What does that sentence mean? From the context of your question you might assume that fnuff means "that singular exhalation laugh that happens when you read something only slightly funny", but in fact I meant that John rubbed the corner of his eye with his middle finger to remove rheum.

My example also shows the absurdity of your approach. There are an indefinite number of common everyday activities and occurrences for which we have no single word. There is no word for turning your head to the side; there is no word for leaving your socks on during sex; there is not word for not eating all the fried potatoes you piled onto your plate; there is not word for brushing the inside of your teeth first; etc.

I hope you begin to see that it is not only common but inevitable and ubiquitous that we express a single concept using many words.

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  • And, I won’t pretend to be some master wordsmith, but connotation is simply the implied meaning of a word. So, the connotation of that huff is that it is half-amused, and if that connotation was already prevalent, you would not have needed to add “half-amused”. You would have simply put “he huffed” and everyone would have known he was amused. But, in reality, if you said, ‘“Why’d you do that”, he huffed.’ No context clues are needed, we would all generally assume they were upset, not amused. Oct 24, 2023 at 16:24
  • @Amadeus The example about pretty does not fit. The well-established connotation of “pretty” is pleasing to the eyes, and it’s a very general connotation that we all understand can describe everything from babies,to rocks,to stars, and everything in between. Saying that she is the prettiest in the school is simply the superlative form of the exact same connotation. However, if you were using the word “pretty” to describe something very plain or unappealing, then you would have to add extra words like in your example, to add that new connotation to the word. Oct 24, 2023 at 16:25
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    @JimmyG. Comments on this site are not a place to debate. I think you are wrong. If you think you are right and know better than me, that's fine. My answer is just as much for other writers, as it is for you.
    – Amadeus
    Oct 24, 2023 at 18:17

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