I’d Like To Take This Opportunity To Coin A New Word.

This word does not yet exist, to the best of my recollection and research abilities. Yet we need this word. No word currently either in common usage or in the annals of academia properly encapsulates this phenomenon.

The phenomenon is inability to fully acquire more than the sloppiest understanding of commonly used words and phrases in one’s own first language.

One will encounter written phrases such as “at this point and time” or “for all intensive purposes.” Misapplication of words such as “dominate” where “dominant” is the intended word, or “volumptuous” where “voluptuous” was intended.

It is my opinion that the reason for these missteps in writing is that those who commit them have never read these phrases. They are acquainted with them only by virtue of having heard them spoken; the result is that when they attempt to write them, never having seen them written, they can only phonetically approximate phrases heard in conversation but never seen on the page.

The reach of their vocabulary, in short, exceeds their grasp.

And there is no word yet to properly capture this phenomenon; that is to say, there wasn’t until now.

That word is: malliteracy. And it means precisely what you might suppose it does based on even a cursory understanding of Latin: bad/ill/wrongful literacy.

Sometimes the birth of a new word, like the birth of a new person, is an occasion for celebration; some words herald innovations, expansions of the boundaries of human potential. The birth of this word feels to this writer like the opening refrain of a dirge. Let us hope that malliteracy does not catch on. Let us hope instead that the word and the phenomenon which precipitated its conception are both extinguished, and soon.

Until next time, please remember to support this blog; do good work, and be good to yourselves and each other.


  • Maureen Shaughnessy

    I think you hit it on the head — most who use these phrases have never read the phrases, but have just heard them spoken.

    I work with a population of teen mothers make those kind of missteps in their writing. They are mostly illiterate, or barely literate and many will never graduate from highschool. Many approach reading with dread. One of my goals is to turn them into readers.

    I like your new word, and may start to use it, but not with these teens. I also know a few adults –again, largely non-readers — who could be described as malliterate.

    By the way, I have been browsing your blog today (came here looking for integration between Scrivener and Evernote) and have to say I like your posts. Thank you!


  • John Castle

    Hi, Maureen. Thank you for your comment, and I hope you find information and entertainment here.


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