neologism (words)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

stacks of new coins
"The language mint," said Mario Pei, "is a great manufacturing center, where all sorts of productive activities go on unceasingly" (The Story of Language, 1949). (Anthony Bradshaw/Getty Images)

Definition

A neologism is a newly coined word, expression, or usage. Adjective: neologistic. Also known as a coinage.

Not all neologisms are entirely new. Some offer new uses for old words, while others result from new combinations of existing words. 

A number of factors determine whether a neologism will stay around in the language. "Rarely will a word enter common usage," says Rod L. Evans, "unless it fairly clearly resembles other words" (Tyrannosaurus Lex, 2012).


See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

 

Examples and Observations

  • Hinky
    McGee: What are we looking for?
    Abby: Just anything that's hinky.
    McGee: Why do you use that word?
    Abby: What word?
    McGee: Hinky. It's a made-up word.
    Abby: All words are made-up words.
    (Sean Murray and Pauley Perrette, "A Weak Link." NCIS, May 2004)


    hinky, adj.
    [Chiefly Police slang. Nervous, uneasy.]
    Pronunciation: Brit. /ˈhɪŋki/, U.S. /ˈhɪŋki/
    Forms: 19– hinkey, 19– hinky.
    Etymology: Probably a variant of hincty adj.
    U.S. colloq. (orig. in African-American usage and Police slang).
    1. Chiefly Police slang. Nervous, uneasy.
    1956 ‘B. Holiday’ & W. Dufty Lady Sings Blues xx. 181 If I started getting nervous or hinky, wondering, ‘What is this?’ he'd tell me to take it easy. . . .
    2000 P. Cornwell Last Precinct (2001) 287 If the hairs turn out to be Chandonne's, then I'm gonna have to entertain the idea she let him stay out there, and that's why she got all hinky about it.
    2. Suspect, questionable. Also: unreliable, not working properly. . . .
    1975 J. Wambaugh Choirboys vii. 93 ‘Driver of the pimpmobile looks hinky.’... ‘Let's bring him down. Might have a warrant.’ . . .
    ("OED [Oxford English Dictionary] Online Word of the Day," March 13, 2013)
     
  • Thomas Jefferson on Neologisms
    "For this word location, see Bailey, Johnson, Sheridan, Walker, &c. But if dictionaries are to be the arbiters of language, in which of them shall we find neologism? No matter. It is a good word, well sounding, obvious, and expresses an idea, which would otherwise require circumlocution. . . . I am a friend to neology. It is the only way to give to a language copiousness and euphony."
    (Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, August 15, 1820)
     
  • Bouncebackability
    "Footballers . . . are adept at coining neologisms, if only because they're not adept at using proper words. In 2004, Iain Dowie, the then manager of Crystal Palace, conjured the term bouncebackability to denote . . .. Ah, you are ahead of me. Anyway, it entered the Collins English Dictionary the following year."
    (Michael Deacon, "The Dictionary Needs to Scrax and Polkadodge." The Daily Telegraph, Aug. 6, 2010)
     
  • New Words Around Town (UK)
    Ikeahorrea
    The unavoidable result of a total lack of control when faced with those irresistible bargains that lurk in the bowels of our favourite Swedish retailer is a house full of unwanted crap.

    Yankers
    On a one-to-one basis, we love them, mostly, but how come whenever Americans travel en masse they turn into loud, brash, bragging, whiny Yankers?

    Flabbygasted
    The shock and dismay you experience when you try on last summer's clothes and discover that hibernating with a tonne of Cadburys was probably not the smartest way to pass the winter.

    Assmosis
    Career advancement absorbed by licking the boss's derriere rather than by merit.

    Brainworm
    A sound or thought that burrows its way into your noodle and just won't quit.
    (Keith Barker-Main, Say What? New Words Around Town. Metro, 2006)
     
  • Solastalgia
    "In interviews [Glenn] Albrecht conducted over the past few years, scores of Australians described their deep, wrenching sense of loss as they watch the landscape around them change. Familiar plants don't grow any more. Gardens won't take. Birds are gone. 'They no longer feel like they know the place they've lived for decades,' he says. . . .

    "Albrecht has given this syndrome an evocative name: solastalgia. It's a mashup of the roots solacium (comfort) and algia (pain), which together aptly conjure the word nostalgia. In essence, it's pining for a lost environment. 'Solastalgia,' as he wrote in a scientific paper describing his theory, 'is a form of homesickness one gets when one is still at home.'"
    (Clive Thompson, "Clive Thompson on How the Next Victim of Climate Change Will Be Our Minds." Wired, Jan. 2008)
     
  • What Qualities Help a New Word Survive?
    "In the 2000s (or the noughties, oughties, or zips), a newly minted word has had an unprecedented opportunity to be heard beyond its original creator. With 24-hour media coverage, and the infinite space of the Internet, the chain of ears and mouths has never been longer, and the repetition of a new word today takes a fraction of the time it would have taken a hundred, or even fifty, years ago. If, then, only the smallest percentage of new words make it into current dictionaries, what are the determining factors in their success?

    "Very roughly speaking, there are five primary contributors to the survival of a new word: usefulness, user-friendliness, exposure, the durability of the subject it describes, and its potential associations or extensions. If a new word fulfils these robust criteria it stands a very good chance of inclusion in the modern lexicon."
    (Susie Dent, The Language Report: English on the Move, 2000-2007. Oxford Univ. Press, 2007)
     
  • When to Use Neologisms
    "Part of the strength and vitality of English is its readiness to welcome new words and expressions, and to accept new meanings for old words. Yet such meanings and uses often depart as quickly as they arrived. . . .

    "Before grabbing the latest usage, ask yourself a few questions. Is it likely to pass the test of time? If not, are you using it to show just how cool you are? Has it already become a cliché? Does it do a job no other word or expression does just as well? Does it rob the language of a useful or well-liked meaning? Is it being adapted to make the writer's prose sharper, crisper, more euphonious, easier to understand--in other words, better? Or to make it seem more with it (yes, that was cool once, just as cool is cool now), more pompous, more bureaucratic or more politically correct--in other words, worse?"
    (The Economist Style Guide, 10th ed. Profile Books, 2010)
     
  • Old Neologisms (1619)
    "O harsh lips! I now hear all around me such words as common, vices, entry, malice; even virtue, study, justice, pity, mercy, compassion, profit, commodity, colour, grace, favor, acceptance. But whither, pray, in all the world have you banished those words which our forefathers used for these new-fangled ones? Are our words to be exiled like our citizens? Is the new barbaric invasion to extirpate the English tongue?"
    (Alexander Gill, Logonomia Anglica, 1619; quoted by Henry Barnard in English Pedagogy, 1862)
     
  • The "Idle Dream" of Fixing a Language
    "Despite the exacerbated protests of the upholders of authority and tradition a living language makes new words as these may be needed; it bestows novel meanings upon old words; it borrows words from foreign tongues; it modifies its usages to gain directness and to achieve speed. Often these novelties are abhorrent; yet they may win acceptance if they approve themselves to the majority. This irrepressible conflict between stability and mutation and between authority and independence can be observed at all epochs in the evolution of all languages, in Greek and in Latin in the past as well as in English and in French in the present. The man in the street is likely to have a relish for verbal novelty and even for verbal eccentricity; and the man in the library is likely to be a stanch upholder of the good old ways, especially hostile to what he contemptuously stigmatizes as 'neologisms,' an abhorrent and horrific term of reproach. . . .

    "The belief that a language ought to be 'fixt,' that is, made stable, or in other words, forbidden to modify itself in any way, was held by a host of scholars in the 17th and 18th centuries. They were more familiar with the dead languages, in which the vocabulary is closed and in which usage is petrified, than they were with the living languages, in which there is always incessant differentiation and unending extension. To 'fix' a living language finally is an idle dream; and if could be brought about it would be a dire calamity. Luckily language is never in the exclusive control of scholars; it does not belong to them alone, as they are often inclined to believe; it belongs to all who have it as a mother-tongue."
    (Brander Matthews, "Is the English Language Degenerating?" Essays on English, 1921)

 

Pronunciation: nee-OL-i-jiz-em