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Can I just string a couple letters together, slap on a meaning and call it a word?

Or is their a process it has to go through to be considered a word?

Do all new words need to be traced back to an existing word?

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    Sure as flavel you can. Are you asking if there is a law against it, or are you asking if your word will become popular?
    – user6726
    Jan 29 '18 at 16:19
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    I don't understand your use of "proper". By analogy, what is the proper way to invent a gadget? Did you want me to explain how I just invented the word "flavel"?
    – user6726
    Jan 29 '18 at 16:49
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    Just do it. There is no procedure for voting, other that up-votes and down-votes. The market determines what is accepted.
    – user6726
    Jan 29 '18 at 18:08
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    You can invent any word you wish. There is absolutely no guarantee that it will be used by other persons, though. It is just completely unregulated. It would perhaps useful to remark that a word that is somehow related to already existing words have a better chance. Also, a new word has a better chance if there isn't another word that already conveys the same meaning. Respecting the language's phonotactics would also help. Jan 29 '18 at 19:39
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    Some people will argue that your word is not a word until it is listed in some dictionary. They are clearly wrong (dictionaries record what the language is, they don't control what it is), but the idea they are expressing has some value: there is a scale that stretches between a word that somebody has made up and used once, and a word that is known to every speaker of the language and taught to every learner. Somewhere on that scale, there is a division between "real" words and "made-up" words - or between "words" and "non-words". But people do not agree where that division lies.
    – Colin Fine
    Jan 29 '18 at 19:57
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Can I just string a couple letters together, slap on a meaning and call it a word? Or is their a process it has to go through to be considered a word?

For all practical intents and purposes, yes you can — if the amount of people who'll be considering it a "word" is limited to just one (that is, you). If you make a word out of existing morphemes, that just haven't been arranged like so merely due to chance, but whose meaning is inferrable by natives, that's clearly permissible — and happens somewhat 'frequently' in scientific circles when new terminology is coined or introduced.

Do all new words need to be traced back to an existing word?

This is, in essence, untenable — we know that there was a time before human language, and as such no word can truly be traced back to an infinite tree of descent. Now, more realistically what you're asking: no, words can be coined all the time.

If your coinage merely looks like a word, but has no inferrable meaning (such as 'stralts' in English), it is highly unlikely it will catch on.

Words do exist outside of dictionaries — but to get into them, they have to exist and be in use.

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