A made-up word may seem silly, but it can actually add an entirely new layer of meaning to your lyric.
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This may seem weird, but sometimes the best way to convey an emotion or attitude is by making up a word. In “The Battle of Epping Forest”, from Genesis’ “Selling England By the Pound” album, you get a lot of this. It’s a song about two gangs trying to beat the living daylights out of each other in an old-school turf war, using broken bottles, fists and chains. In describing the scene, the band invents words and phrases that go deeper than what the intended words could:
The breaking of day
“You are a robbing hood”
The break-in of day
You’ll have to listen to the song to get the context in which these words were used. But there is no question that “thumpire” is a fantastic replacement for “umpire.” With that one invented word, you get a much clearer picture of the scene.
To do it, it’s best to choose a word or phrase that rhymes, but also focuses in on the original meaning while perhaps taking it in a new direction.
Why not give it a try. Here is a list of words that pertain to a boat cruise. What words can you invent that might add even more meaning to the words you’re given? (The first one is done for you):
Crashing of the waves
The mooring has broken
How did you do? Don’t worry if you can’t find suitable invented words or phrases – some just don’t lend themselves well to this (although you’ll have to admit, “The mooring has broken” is a bit of a gift.;) ) Also, without context, some words you might make up might seem meaningless on their surface. For example, you might create “mousekeeping” as a replacement for “housekeeping”, to convey that the cruise was not up to the cleanliness standards you were expecting.
Be careful how you use these – as you can see, there is a strong pun-like flavour that can work against you if you are trying to write a serious lyric. But in many cases, an invented word has the power of jumping off the page and adding a new dimension of meaning to an otherwise ordinary lyric.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.
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