There are numerous words like sinteno, ĉielarko, etc which are stable collocations.

What I like about esperanto is the apparent freedom of creating new words. For instance malaĉegulo could be jokingly used to adress a very moral person.

My question is, how common are custom words in for instance literature. I imagine they are not so common in everyday speech.

2 Answers 2


I do not have any figures for frequency of such words, but I can provide a psychological reason for why I believe them to be rare.

Common words are easier to process during communication. If, however, one uses rare words composed of multiple morphemes in unusual ways, the hearer/reader has to actively deconstruct them to get at the meaning. A word like ĉielarko is a compound, but frozen to such a degree that it would be perceived as a single unit. Nobody would really take it apart into ĉiel- and arko to get at the meaning.

Using unusual morpheme combinations is thus hard work for both production and reception, and hence not very common. This applies more to spoken than to written language, as reading is not real-time, so the reader can more easily decode such words. As they show creativity, they would be more likely to be used in literature than in everyday communication.

From my own experience, becoming a more fluent speaker of Esperanto involves picking up common words (esp with affixes) and storing them as single units.

  • As an aside there is a language, Ithkuil, where the words need to be composed entirely in this manner, from particles, but it is impossible to speak; there was an interesting article about it in the New Yorker [newyorker.com/magazine/2012/12/24/utopian-for-beginners]
    – conor
    Aug 27, 2016 at 17:39
  • One also needs to do this routinely in languages whose vocabulary is inadequate for the topic, for example when trying to discuss a grant application for quantum physics in Inuit Sign Language. Toki Pona is a recent constructed language that raised this problem to a principle by insisting on a complete vocabulary of just over a hundred words.
    – user54
    Aug 27, 2016 at 17:44
  • Not coining new words all the time has another advantage besides efficiency. Just like taboos on 'bad' words, it becomes more effective when you do use such a ('bad' or ad hoc constructed) word. People will pay more attention.
    – user54
    Aug 27, 2016 at 17:46
  • @HansAdler Yes, it's important to mention this effect, even when it's not "bad". In William Auld's La Infana Raso, we have an example of a "made up" word that creates a striking effect: "Vi revis pri mi, la revon mi ne plenumis: / anstataŭ tio, mi sidas tajpante versojn / en nekonata ardefarita lingvo / pardonu min." [bold added by me; "ardefarita" is one of these "custom words" OP describes, and delivers the strongest "punch" of these lines, emphasizing itself by being unusual, the rest of the lines consist of very common and simple words.]
    – Kat Ño
    Oct 9, 2016 at 0:05

For some anecdotal evidence of custom words, here are some that are all found in the single book Marina by Sten Johansson:

Marina sentas sin iom aparta en sia malmoderna vesto inter la normalaspektaj gastoj.

Sur la bicikla vojeto preterpasas du samklasaninoj, Åsa kaj Ida, kun volvitaj bantukoj sur la biciklaj pakoportiloj.

Vi estas duonfrancino, ĉu ne?

[…] dum li kaj ĉiuj konatoj restas starante surkaje en duoncirklo ĉirkaŭ la tirata pasponteto

Ĉe mia onklino kaj ŝia edzo. Sur diabla fekinsulo. Ĝi estas pura prizono.

I found these using the scripts in the TelegramaMetodo and then looking at the least frequent words.

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