I. What is a Neologism?
What do the words amazement, cold-blooded, blushing, and gnarled all have in common? They were once invented by Shakespeare and they were once neologisms. Neologism is new word or phrase that is not yet used regularly by most speakers and writers.
II. Examples of Neologism
For examples of neologisms, consider some of these new words:
blutter: to give a long, rambling speech about uncertainty
Blutter combines other words like blabber and stutter to create a new word with a new meaning.
onesteva: the sound an off the hook phone makes
This word is an attempt at having a word for the sound we all know so well.
sarchasm: the gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn’t get it
This word combines sarcasm with chasm for a humorous new word.
III.Types of Neologisms
As there are a variety of ways to make new words, there are a variety of types of neologisms. Here are a few specific types of neologisms:
Portmanteaus or Blend Words
A specific type of neologism, portmanteaus do just what they say: blend together two words to create a new word which combines their meanings.
Here are a few examples of blend words:
- smoke + fog = smog
- spoon + fork = spork
- breakfast + lunch = brunch
Derived words are words that use ancient Greek and Latin phrases naturalized to match the English language.
Here are a few examples of derived words:
- Latin word: villa
Meaning: villa or house
Derived words: villa, village, villager
- Latin word: sub
Derived words: submarine, subway
- Latin word: copia
Derived words: cornucopia, copious
Transferred words take derived words to a whole new level, as they encompass words taken from another language and used in an adjusted form in English.
- herbs from French herbes meaning herbs
- alligator from Spanish el lagarto meaning lizard
- wiener dog from German wiener meaning hot dog
New words come from creativity and invention, merging of existing words, and borrowing from other cultures and languages.
IV. The Importance of Neologism
Neologisms remind us that language is not something set in stone, but an evolving body of work, subject to adjustment, deletions, additions, and change. As new things are invented, as slang becomes acceptable, and as new technologies emerge, new words must fill in the gaps in language. Just in 2014, a variety of new words were added to the dictionary including hashtag, selfie, and pho.
V. Examples of Neologism in Literature
Literature is the source for many neologisms, as creative writers create words when they cannot find the appropriate word in their existing vocabulary.
Shakespeare’s bedazzled from “The Taming of the Shrew”:
Pardon, old father, my mistaking eyes, that have been so bedazzled with the sun that everything I look on seemeth green.
The word Shakespeare invented to describe the gleam of sunlight has come to describe rhinestone-embellished clothing!
Horace Walpole’s serendipity, inspired by the fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip. Walpole coined the term serendipity after reading a Sri Lankan fairy tale where three princes had the happy habit of stumbling upon fantastic discoveries on accident.
Chortle from Lewis Carroll’s poem “Jabberwocky”:
And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.
Carroll can be thanked for giving a name to a laugh that falls somewhere between a chuckle and snort.
Nerd from Dr. Seuss’s “If I Ran the Zoo”:
And then, just to show them, I’ll sail to Ka-Troo
And Bring Back an It-Kutch a Preep and a Proo
A Nerkle a Nerd and a Seersucker, too!
The bully’s nickname for bespectacled, mathetically-inclined students had its origins in a children’s book by Dr. Seuss. Seuss’s “Nerds” had long mustaches and wild hair, yellow skin, and red faces.
VI. Examples of Neologism in Pop Culture
Chillax encourages those who are stressed to double-up on relaxation by chilling and relaxing simultaneously.
Writer Stephen Fried invented the word fashionista when describing a particularly fashionable model named Gia Carangi.
Meh has mixed reporting on origins ranging from an episode of The Simpsons to the Yiddish term mnyeh. Regardless of its origins, the word has come to express extremely strong indifference or boredom.
VII. Related Terms
Neologisms are not the only unique formations of words in reference in literature and cultural theory today. Here are a few devices similar to neologisms:
Similar to neologisms, anagrams involve creating new words. Specifically, though, anagrams create new words by rearranging the letters of specific words which exist already. Here are a few examples of anagrams formed from other words:
- post and pots are both anagrams formed from the word stop
- moon starer is an anagram formed from astronomer
- peels is an anagram formed from sleep
Sometimes onomatopoeic words are neologisms, and sometimes neologisms are onomatopoeic words. Onomatopoeias are words that sound like the sound they describe. Sometimes onomatopoeias are invented for specific sounds. Here are a few examples of onomatopoeia:
- boom for an explosion
- cock-a-doodle-doo for a rooster’s call
- honk for a car horn
Word play takes on many forms, from neologisms to anagrams to onomatopoeia and others.
VIII. In Closing
Neologisms are a reflection of language’s ability to grow and evolve with time, culture, and technology. Neologisms can be quirky and fun mixes of words already in existence or completely new coinages made up from thin air.