Semicolon Followup

Many thanks for all the kind words about the Semicolon Appreciation Society!
Here are some followup links, in case you just can't get enough semicolon in your online diet:
Some letters to the NYT about the original story [Thanks to RLE for the link]
Trevor Butterworth sent me a link his longer article in the Financial Times, back in 2005, in which he outlines a purported American bias against the semicolon. (I believe Americans use fewer semicolons per capita, but more as a nation, in a kind of reverse image of our carbon footprint …)
The Semicolon's Dream Journal [exactly what it says on the box]

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Semicolon Appreciation Society

After all the recent discussion of the semicolon (in the NYTimes and other places) I couldn't resist the urge to make Semicolon Appreciation Society T-Shirts. Because, really, if a thing is worth talking about, it's certainly worth wearing.
semicolon shirt
semicolon shirt
Here's the back (on the white/light shirts only, no back printing on dark shirts):
semicolon shirt
I also made some 3×5 stickers, so you can edit signs to add semicolons where they ought to be:
semicolon sticker
And, of course, a membership card:
semicolon appreciation society membership card
Although I'm not happy with the wording of it. Anyone want to suggest new wording that actually, you know, includes a semicolon?
I was thinking that the Semicolon Appreciation Society's bylaws should be like those of humorous WWII servicemen's associations, with riddles and having to forfeit the price of a drink if you can't write a sentence including a semicolon on demand. Suggestions for further bylaws entertained in the comments.
Thanks are due to Garth, who recklessly encouraged me, and India Amos, who suggested the completely wonderful Cooper Poster font as the one that included the platonic ideal of the semicolon form.

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Ask The Dictionary Evangelist

A Mr. John Shakespeare [I know! Isn't that perfect?] had a question for me, and kindly gave his permission for me to share my answer with all of you.

I just read your interesting and amusing piece, Neologizing 101, in the NY Times. [I did not ask him to say this. —Ed.] Neologizing is the invention of a word; invention seems (to me, at least) to imply copyright. So my questions are: How does one prove invention of a new word? And, how does one copyright that invention, and make royalties (ie; /moolah/) from it?
I realize I'm not the first person to ask you such questions. I've been having a lot of trouble finding the answers on the net, though. So, I would be very grateful of any hints you could throw my way.
Respectfully,
John Shakespeare

First off: IANAL (I am not a lawyer), trademark or otherwise. Real lawyers should feel free to weigh in, that's what blog comments are for.
The short answer, though, is that a word is not copyrightable; you can register a
word as a trademark, connected to a product or service, but you can't copyright it.
This is, I think, because a copyright is a very limited right, and not an absolute property right. Copyrights came about to encourage authors to write by allowing them a limited monopoly over their work; as you can well imagine, that doesn't quite work for words. A word, once created, belongs to the language, not to you. You must share it for it to be effective as a word. (And most neologizers need no encouragement to share, whether monetary or any other sort!)
And even though a word is invented, you can't patent it — again, because the point of a new word is to get it into use, not to restrict its use. Patents are less about granting a right for YOU to use something and more about keeping OTHER people from using it — which doesn't make sense for words: "Here's my new word, sorry, you can't speak, read, or write it." Words have no value when kept apart from the language as a whole. More practically, there is no mechanism for charging a fee for the use of any particular word. (How on earth could you? Even if you could do it for print & broadcast media, you couldn't do it for casual speech … )
Trademarks are the association of a word with a particular product, so as to protect the consumer (who wants to know that their Bon Ami powder is, in fact, Bon Ami, and not some other thing). They are not a license to control the use of a word in all situations. The fact that we have Apple Computers and Apple Records and Apple Tours doesn't mean we are suddenly barred from calling the fruit an apple, too. And you can Google things and get spam in your inbox and Roomba your living room … trademark owners don't like the use of their trademarks as verbs but they cannot FORBID it.
It's better to look at your new word creation as a gift you give back to the language as a whole, rather than as a land-grab you can monetize. The English language has (ostensibly) been good to you; why not give something back?
[Have a question for the Dictionary Evangelist? There's an email link up there on the right …]

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