A student, let’s call him David, wrote the following on the board today during a word game – ‘expellion.’
Me: That’s not a word.
David: Who do I contact to make that a word?
After a good long laugh at the promptness of his reply, and the underlying assumption that there is one person, somewhere with that kind of authority, we proceeded to imagine the busy office of the one who decrees that a word is a word. We envisioned giant stacks of paper on his old-timey desk, dwarves busy at filing cabinets, a secretary fielding incessant phone calls from people like us with great new words to submit for approval and inclusion in the official usage dictionary of American English.
And we all agreed that if ever a word deserved to be included, ‘expellion’ did. Never mind that what David intended to write was ‘expelsion,’ which is also not a word, but is closer to getting at a noun form of ‘expel’ which is what he was going for. We discussed the existence of ‘expulsion’ and agreed that there is still room for expellion as a less violent alternative. I would rather experience expellion than expulsion any day. And since the original word that prompted all this was ‘secretion,’ expellion sounds downright genteel and appropriate for polite conversation.
The conclusion I soon reached is that I would like to apply for the job of Director of the Bureau of Official Words (BOW). I would like to be the paper-swamped person at the old-timey desk, because new words and new usages are so, so fun.
One example: Dope. When I was around six, circa 1971, my dad had a sober conversation with me about dope. As I recall I had called my sister a dope, meaning a silly goof, but I remember that conversation as a light bulb moment that aha! words have different meanings. Fast-forward several years – don’t do the exact math, OK? – and my 2015 college girl described her new ankle boots as ‘dope,’ ‘totally dope.’ Now I sat up and paid attention. Her tone suggested high praise. Note to self: ‘dope’ is now an adjective meaning really, really good. Duly noted. Shortly afterward, the same daughter intensified her description of an Indian meal as ‘stupid good.’ Ahh, I said to myself, in full Director of BOW mode, ‘stupid’ is now an adverb intensifying an adjective.
So, when at school the next day one of my students complimented my socks, I utilized all my new knowledge and replied with sang-froid, “Yeah, they’re stupid dope, aren’t they?”