I have no problem with making up words, really I don’t. I’m not even particularly fussed about spelling and grammar, as long as the main message gets across. Shakespeare invented around 1700 new words to get his point across in his plays, including a few of my favourites – arch-villain, new-fangled and scuffle.
It fascinates me, however, when people make up words for a concept when the word actually already exists. Like multipotentialite, for example.
Origins of the word, ‘multipotentialite’
At a recent writing conference I sat and listened to keynote speaker Emilie Wapnick from Puttylike talk about the revelation that led to her creating her online community of like-minded individuals who have multiple interests. She calls herself – and her community members – multipotentialites, a word she made up to describe a person who has multiple interests.
My internal critic rolled her eyes a little (she can be a little mean and I’m generally pretty good at repressing her). Emilie’s words, while they resonated with me, just weren’t new.
I come from a long line of multi-disciplinary genetic material. In later high school I had a sliding doors experience where I had to choose between advanced mathematics and advanced literature.
I once went to a careers coach and completed a professional interest survey – among my top 10 suggested careers were writer, lawyer, audiologist and chef.
I was always a little jealous of the friend who had ‘always wanted to be a doctor’ or ‘always wanted to be an opera singer’. How delightful to be so focused.
Several writing colleagues at the same conference, however, seemed astonished and excited by the idea of being multipotentialites. I admit, I was baffled.
Synonyms for multipotentialite
I studied early modern history at university so I’m pretty familiar with the concept of a ‘Renaissance man’:
The term Renaissance man or polymath is used for a very clever person who is good at many different things. The idea comes from a time of history called the Renaissance which lasted from about 1400 to about 1600. (via Wikipedia)
So Leonardo da Vinci – original multipotentialite, yes?
Why a multipotentialite is different
After my initial teasing and eye rolling, I decided to just shut up and leave my colleagues to their epiphanies. It clearly made them, and many others, very happy. Who was I to rain on their parade?
But their enthusiasm was so great that I’ve been chewing it over in my mind – what is it about this concept that feels so different to them?
Multipotentialite is multi-gendered
A Renaissance man is just that – a man.
The concept of a Renaissance man is very much anchored to a point in history when women weren’t even permitted to receive a formal education. Multiple female interests in Renaissance Italy were confined to childbearing, housekeeping and religion. Even the enjoyment of music and fashion were highly regulated.
A multipotentialite, however, is a 21st century term that was invented by a woman – Emilie – who has recently married her girlfriend – Valerie (you can check out her lovely wedding photos here).
Multipotentialite is a gender-less, sex-less word that belongs to everyone.
Multipotentialites don’t have to be geniuses
‘Renaissance man’ is an aspirational state. It suggests a certain level of brilliance in a range of fields.
You don’t have to excel in anything to be a multipotentialite, it simply means you have many interests in which you may (or may not) show potential.
The New-Age Renaissance Man/Woman/Insert Gender Here
So I’m a bit of a convert – I think Emilie Wapnick may actually be on to something. It’s something that plenty of other people have thought about, but it’s something she:
- gave a name to
- created a community around
- used to inspire thousands of others to embrace their individuality and find their purpose (or purposes!) in life.
Are you a multipotentialite? Do you like to make up words?
P.S. Still wondering what a phlegmblahgarbler is? It’s “a person who makes you feel tired or unwell by mixing up or distorting facts while sniffing loudly”. **
** No it’s not. Em Hawker made it up and I gave it a meaning. Writers are weird like that.