Continuing with my Fantasy Manifesto, I offer the following:
2. You don’t have to re-invent the wheel. You certainly don’t have to re-name it.
I understand the motivation to give one’s fantasy an otherworldly quality. When one is worldbuilding, there is the temptation to really BUILD it from the ground up, if not even going all the way to creation.
A big part of any culture is language, and use of language. You want your world to come out as unique, special and charming. You want your world to stand out with clarity.
But you don’t do that by using semi-nonsense words when perfectly good words in English (or whatever language you are writing in) exist. Some fine examples of words you probably don’t need to create new words for: day, daytime, night, nighttime, month, year, sunrise, sunset.*
I understand where the motivation to do this sort of thing comes from. I know some of the time I go into a linguistic rabbit-hole when I think about the origins of some words (“Parliament” comes from the French word parlez, but there is no France here so how can the word Parliament exist??!?), but I’ve come to the conclusion that only madness lies there.
Writing, especially writing a fantasy novel, is heavy lifting already. Why weigh yourself down instead of letting the existing language do its work for you?
*- Every rule, of course, has an exception. Watership Down, possibly one of my favorite books of all time, does create new words for daytime, noon, sunset, and such. There it works. I think it works because it specifically ties into rabbit-lore throughout the story. And maybe that’s the key difference to look at: if your made-up word is doing worldbuilding work for you, or if it’s weighing it down.