One of my most memorable escapades in journalism was interviewing one of the quintet of Italian writers who go by the collective name of the Wu Ming Foundation for The Herald. At one point I asked, playfully, if they deliberately chose titles for their books that were untranslatable – such as Q and Manituana. I was surprised to learn that they did, because it was easier to keep track of readership and sales if the book had the same title in every language. This piece of literary marketing wisdom was in my mind when I decided my new website should have a new name. But it’s also an opportunity to indulge in the underrated pleasure of making up new words, whose illustrious practitioners include Jonathan Swift – who coined the name Vanessa for his mistress, and popularised it in a poem written after her death – George Orwell and, of course, James Joyce.
I wanted a word that was unique but looked familiar. ‘Scrievenis’ is a hybrid of words for writing in most of the languages I know (though not, perversely, English, which retains a old Germanic term that the Germans later replaced with the more Latinate ‘schreiben’.) It takes in elements of geschrieben (German), geschreven (Dutch) and scrievit (Scots); I later realised that the first five letters amount to the equivalent word in Romanian, which I took up for fun recently (you can read more about that here). It is typographically efficient, having no ascenders or descenders, which is an advantage when designing logos. I like its inherent elusiveness – to the casual observer it could pass for anything from Greek to Gaelic, but anyone with a proper understanding of those languages would recognise the imposter straight away. It is both authentic and false, like a piece of reproduction furniture. And for now at least, it’s my exclusive property.