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A correspondent has used the coined word 'fealtic' in a poem

Apr 30, 2010

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A correspondent has used the coined word 'fealtic' in a poem. He relates it to 'fealty' meaning 'faithfulness' but wants it to mean 'faithfulness to what is coded in one's genes'. 


The line is:

heedless Nature went its feckless way

and left the fecund world to its fealtic beasts of prey.

It is accepted that poets forge a personal language that works well within a poem even though it might not be accepted as general currency. I therefore have no difficulty with the creation of the adjective fealtic from fealty. Pushing words in ways in which they are not normally accustomed to go is the right of every poet.

However I think there is a problem with the extended meaning which the poet ascribes to this word. In the normal way of making adjectives from nouns, the adjective extends the grammatical range but not the meaning of the base word. So fealtic can mean 'characterised by fealty or faithfulness'.

But to extend this to the meaning 'characterised by faithfulness to one's genes' is a lexical step that will leave the readers puzzled. 

Humpty Dumpty claimed that you only knew what he meant by a word when he told you:

'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said,in a rather scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.'
'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'
'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is the master - that's all.'

And so Humpty Dumpty had the last word but that was in the Looking Glass world. In real life things are a bit different.

(Image courtesy of Stokpic: Ed Gregory)

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