Where Do New Words Come From?

Six Types of Word-Formation in English

new words
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Have you ever experienced textpectation? According to the Urban Dictionary, that's "the anticipation one feels when waiting for a response to a text message." To a linguist, textpectation is an example of a blend or (in Lewis Carroll's more fanciful phrase) a portmanteau word. Blending is just one of the many ways that new words enter the English language.

In fact, most new words are actually old words in different forms or with fresh functions.

This process of fashioning new words out of old ones is called derivation--and here are six of the most common types of word formation. (For additional examples, click on the highlighted terms.)

  1. Affixation
    Over half the words in our language have been formed by adding prefixes and suffixes to root words. Recent coinages of this type include semi-celebrity, subprime, awesomeness, and Facebookable.
     
  2. Back Formation
    Reversing the process of affixation, a back-formation creates a new word by removing an affix from an already existing word, for example liaise from liaison and enthuse from enthusiasm.
     
  3. Blending
    A blend or a portmanteau word is formed by merging the sounds and meanings of two or more other words, such as Frankenfood (a combination of Frankenstein and food), pixel (picture and element), staycation (stay and vacation), and Viagravation (Viagra and aggravation).
     
  4. Clipping
    Clippings are shortened forms of words, such as blog (short for web log), zoo (from zoological garden), and flu (from influenza).
     
  1. Compounding
    A compound is a fresh word or expression made up of two or more independent words: office ghost, tramp stamp, breakup buddy, backseat surfer.
     
  2. Conversion
    By this process (also known as functional shift), new words are formed by changing the grammatical functions of old words, such as turning nouns into verbs (or verbing): accessorize, party, gaslight, viagrate.

    To learn more about where our words come from, visit Introduction to Etymology: Word Histories.