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  • Writer's pictureEvelyn Chen

Neologism in ‘Oryx and Crake’

According to critic John Mullan, ‘remade worlds make language anew’. In the dystopian novel ‘Oryx and Crake’, Atwood creates ‘remade worlds’ to warn readers about the dangerous elements of society they inhabit. ]Atwood 'made language anew in ‘Oryx and Crake’ to reflect the social and political structures depicted in their novels and to show how language can be corrupted by the people in power to maintain their positions. Atwood focuses on environmental and feminist issues through her uses of language.

Atwood wrote ‘Oryx and Crake’ to emphasise the negative aspects of the society she lived in. Since the 1980s, avaricious material consumption has been accepted and even encouraged by the Western world, at the expense of the environment and social cohesion. At the same time, profit-driven advancements in science were becoming more extreme; 2003 marked the death of Dolly the sheep, the first clone ever created, the same year as Atwood wrote Oryx and Crake. As a response to this culture, Atwood creates a society in ‘Oryx and Crake’ which values language only as a means to sell more products.

Atwood uses neologisms in ‘Oryx and Crake’ to denote corporations and their products, which contributes to the critique of consumerism explored through the novel. Brand names such as ‘AnooYoo’, include capitalizations or duplications reminding readers of current brand names and thus establishing a stronger link between today’s consumerism and the novel’s mockery of this consumerism. Indeed, Elaine Showalter believes Atwood’s “sappy double ‘o’ coinages” are a disdainful representation of American pronunciation’, criticising primarily Americanized consumerism and thus further intensifying the link between today’s society and the society depicted in the novel. Another neologism is ‘CorpSeCorps’, the name of the brutal security agency akin to ‘1984’s ‘thoughtpolice’, which exists to maintain the corporations’ power. When said aloud, the name has a playful lilt to it, which contrasts with what the word represents. However, it also incorporates the noun ‘corpse’ which reminds readers of its menacing nature. Corpse also puns with the noun ‘ corps’, the colloquial term for corporations; this pairing exemplifies the central premise of the novel that late capitalism is intimately connected to death and extinction.

It could be argued that some of the neologisms coined by Atwood are reminiscent of Orwell’s Newspeak and his concept of doublespeak: the names of firms contain two contradictory meanings, often to sinister effect, but do not stop consumers from buying the products. The names which relate to biotechnological corporations and their products seem the most sinister, since they reflect how much damage the corporations are willing to do in order to make money. For example, the company Infantade appears to describe “infant-aid,” likely referring to “conception assistance,” but its spelling is suggestive of intifada, used to denote a legitimate uprising against authority (Arabic, ‘shaking off’). In addition the –ade ending of the name echoes those of registered trademarks like the energy drink Lucuzade. This trivialises conception since it likens it to buying a product off the supermarket shelf. Atwood could be linking this to embryonic screening, which is perceived by some to trivialise conception as people could choose the genes that are carried on in their children, possibly for selfish reasons.

Meanwhile, the firm name ‘OrganInc’ could be a juxtaposition of the nouns ‘organ’ and ‘incorporated’; this juxtaposition is disturbing since selling body parts, which could potentially save lives, as a commodity seems morally wrong. What is jarring is that when said aloud, ‘OrganInc’ sounds like the adjective ‘organic’, which is a paradox since the firm ‘OrganInc’ specialises in growing human organs in pigs, the antithesis of naturalness. Like the government in ‘1984’, the firm ‘OrganInc’ needs to deceive the populace to hide the unnaturalness of the products it creates. Atwood thus shows how language deceives the populace into accepting whatever agenda the people in power have. However, with Atwood, such neologisms such as ‘OrganInc’ also highlight the environmental degradation of creating and consuming such products, a vision of a terrifying future, exaggerated from the genetic experimentation happening in her society.

The protagonist acts as a conduit for the author's attitudes to the changes in language she created in the novel’s fictional world. Jimmy’s love of language and culture is what survives as Crake and the world of science disappear after the apocalyptic event. By letting Crake die and Snowman live, Atwood shows her faith that society would once again value art and language instead of solely focusing on the uses of science for profit. In ‘Oryx and Crake’ readers can see glimpses of this as language and culture constantly appear through allusions to writers such as Vonnegut and Blake, despite society’s view of language as only a means to advertise products and earn more profit. Her hope for a better society can be reflected in her environmental activism, having created a website named after the second book of the trilogy ‘The Year of the Flood’ and a tour promoting her novels to raise money and awareness for various environmental causes.

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