“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” – Rudyard Kipling
Words are an author’s best friends. They give us pause to examine ourselves and refine our thinking. They’re not only the tools we use to build our stories, they are the machinery that runs the enterprise of civilization.
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Do you have a favorite word? I do, and I’ll tell you how I came to love it.
In the 1980’s, my husband, Frank, invented and patented a medical imaging device which he named the Kinestatic Charge Detector (KCD). If you’re interested, you can read the abstract of the original paper here.
The KCD worked on the principle of ions moving in one frame of reference, but stationary in another. To illustrate this principle, Frank coined the word “kinestatic” by combining “kinetic” (moving) with “static” (still). What a great word! To our knowledge, this word had never been used prior to his conceiving it.
Frank has often compared kinestasis (the noun form of the word) with walking up a down escalator. You’re moving in relation to the steps, but you’re stationary in relation to the outside world.
There are lots of other situations in everyday life that are kinestatic. Do you walk on a treadmill? You’re kinestatic. In another context, do you ever find yourself rushing around all day doing things but accomplishing nothing? Kinestasis!
Of course, I was proud of Frank’s work, but I was especially amazed at the word he came up with. I asked him once if we should pursue getting his word into dictionaries, but he was busy and I was busy, so the matter dropped.
Fast-forward ten years or so. We were in England and stopped by Oxford one day when we serendipitously met an assistant to the editor of the Oxford English Dictionary! As a great believer that Providence steps in when we are too lazy to get something done ourselves, I of course assumed this was the moment “kinestatic” would find its rightful place in the English language.
I eagerly explained Frank’s beautiful word (he was too modest to self-promote), and the editor’s assistant thought it sounded interesting. However, she noted, “the word has to be in common usage.” Hmm. I wondered if biomedical engineering academia would qualify as “common usage.”
She and Frank exchanged contact information and over the next couple of months, they emailed back and forth so he could explain more and she could research. Unfortunately, “kinestatic” didn’t meet the lamentably rigid usage standards of the OED. So there.
But it’s still my favorite word, and I’ve decided to include it in every novel I write. It’s sort of like an Easter egg. I plant the word in a sentence, and every editor that sees the manuscript says, “that word is not in the dictionary.” Then I explain why it’s there, and everybody’s happy.
I’m still waiting for the day when the OED and other dictionaries will recognize the genius of Frank’s word. Every now and then I google “kinestatic.” Google changes the search to “kinesthetic,” and I change it back to “kinestatic.” There are a few entries now outside the medical imaging field, so maybe the word is moving toward widespread usage.
Who knows? Maybe 2022 will be the year when the OED editor will step off his treadmill and wonder why we don’t have a word to describe running in place.
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TKZers: Tell us about your favorite word or words. Have you ever made up a word? Or used a word that’s not in the dictionary because it fits the occasion? Tell us your experiences.