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A neologism ( /nˈɒləɪzəm/ ; from Greek νέο- néo-, "new" and λόγος lógos, "speech, utterance") is a relatively recent or isolated term, word, or phrase that may be in the process of entering common use, but that has not yet been fully accepted into mainstream language. [1] Neologisms are often driven by changes in culture and technology. [2] [3] In the process of language formation, neologisms are more mature than protologisms. [4] A word whose development stage is between that of the protologism (freshly coined) and neologism (new word) is a prelogism. [5]


Popular examples of neologisms can be found in science, fiction (notably science fiction), films and television, branding, literature, jargon, cant, linguistic and popular culture.

Examples include laser (1960) from Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation; robotics (1941) from Czech writer Karel Čapek's play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots) ; [6] and agitprop (1930) (a portmanteau of "agitation" and "propaganda"). [7]


Neologisms are often formed by combining existing words (see compound noun and adjective) or by giving words new and unique suffixes or prefixes. Neologisms can also be formed by blending words, for example, "brunch" is a blend of the words "breakfast" and "lunch", or through abbreviation or acronym, by intentionally rhyming with existing words or simply through playing with sounds.

Neologisms can become popular through memetics, through mass media, the Internet, and word of mouth, including academic discourse in many fields renowned for their use of distinctive jargon, and often become accepted parts of the language. Other times, they disappear from common use just as readily as they appeared. Whether a neologism continues as part of the language depends on many factors, probably the most important of which is acceptance by the public. It is unusual for a word to gain popularity if it does not clearly resemble other words.

History and meaning

The term neologism is first attested in English in 1772, borrowed from French néologisme (1734). [8] being called the "neologist-in-chief". In an academic sense, there is no professional Neologist, because the study of such things (cultural or ethnic vernacular, for example) is interdisciplinary. Anyone such as a lexicographer or an etymologist might study neologisms, how their uses span the scope of human expression, and how, due to science and technology, they spread more rapidly than ever before in the present times. [9]

The term neologism has a broader meaning which also includes "a word which has gained a new meaning". [10] [11] [12] Sometimes, the latter process is called semantic shifting, [10] or semantic extension. [13] [14] Neologisms are distinct from a person's idiolect , one's unique patterns of vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation.

Neologisms are usually introduced when it is found that a specific notion is lacking a term, or when the existing vocabulary lacks detail, or when a speaker is unaware of the existing vocabulary. [15] The law, governmental bodies, and technology have a relatively high frequency of acquiring neologisms. [16] [17] Another trigger that motivates the coining of a neologism is to disambiguate a term which may be unclear due to having many meanings. [18]


Neologisms may come from a word used in the narrative of fiction such as novels and short stories. Examples include "grok" (to intuitively understand) from the science fiction novel about a Martian, entitled Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein; "McJob" ( precarious, poorly-paid employment) from Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture by Douglas Coupland; "cyberspace" (widespread, interconnected digital technology) from Neuromancer by William Gibson [19] and "quark" (Slavic slang for "rubbish"; German for a type of dairy product) from James Joyce's Finnegans Wake .

The title of a book may become a neologism, for instance, Catch-22 (from the title of Joseph Heller's novel). Alternatively, the author's name may give rise to the neologism, although the term is sometimes based on only one work of that author. This includes such words as "Orwellian" (from George Orwell, referring to his dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four ) and "Kafkaesque" (from Franz Kafka), which refers to arbitrary, complex bureaucratic systems.

Names of famous characters are another source of literary neologisms, e.g. quixotic (referring to the romantic and misguided title character in Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes), scrooge (from the avaricious main character in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol ) and pollyanna (from the unfailingly optimistic character in Eleanor H. Porter's book of the same name).


Polari is a cant used by some actors, circus performers, and the gay subculture to communicate without outsiders understanding. Some Polari terms have crossed over into mainstream slang, in part through their usage in pop song lyrics and other works. Example include: acdc, barney, blag, butch , camp , khazi, cottaging, hoofer, mince, ogle, scarper, slap, strides, tod, [rough] trade (rough trade).

Verlan (French pronunciation:  [vɛʁlɑ̃] ), (verlan is the reverse of the expression "l'envers") is a type of argot in the French language, featuring inversion of syllables in a word, and is common in slang and youth language. It rests on a long French tradition of transposing syllables of individual words to create slang words. [20] :50 Some verlan words, such as meuf ("femme", which means "woman" roughly backwards), have become so commonplace that they have been included in the Petit Larousse . [21] Like any slang, the purpose of verlan is to create a somewhat secret language that only its speakers can understand. Words becoming mainstream is counterproductive. As a result, such newly common words are re-verlanised: reversed a second time. The common meuf became feumeu. [22] [23]

Neologism development may be spurred, or at least spread, by popular culture. Examples of pop-culture neologisms include the American Alt-right (2010s), the Canadian portmanteau "Snowmageddon" (2009), the Russian parody "Monstration" (ca. 2004), Santorum (c. 2003).

Neologisms spread mainly through their exposure in mass media. The genericizing of brand names, such as "coke" for Coca-Cola, "kleenex" for Kleenex facial tissue, and "xerox" for Xerox photocopying, all spread through their popular use being enhanced by mass media. [24]

However, in some limited cases, words break out of their original communities and spread through social media.[ citation needed ] "Doggo-Lingo", a term still below the threshold of a neologism according to Merriam-Webster, [25] is an example of the latter which has specifically spread primarily through Facebook group and Twitter account use. [25] The suspected origin of this way of referring to dogs stems from a Facebook group founded in 2008 and gaining popularity in 2014 in Australia. In Australian English it is common to use diminutives, often ending in –o, which could be where doggo-lingo was first used. [25] The term has grown so that Merriam-Webster has acknowledged its use but notes the term needs to be found in published, edited work for a longer period of time before it can be deemed a new word, making it the perfect example of a neologism. [25]


Because neologisms originate in one language, translations between languages can be difficult.

In the scientific community, where English is the predominant language for published research and studies, like-sounding translations (referred to as 'naturalization') are sometimes used. [26] Alternatively, the English word is used along with a brief explanation of meaning. [26] The four translation methods are emphasized in order to translate neologisms: transliteration, transcription, the use of analogues, calque or loan translation. [27]

When translating from English to other languages, the naturalization method is most often used. [28] The most common way that professional translators translate neologisms is through the Think aloud protocol (TAP), wherein translators find the most appropriate and natural sounding word through speech. [29] As such, translators can use potential translations in sentences and test them with different structures and syntax. Correct translations from English for specific purposes into other languages is crucial in various industries and legal systems. [30] [31] Inaccurate translations can lead to 'translation asymmetry' or misunderstandings and miscommunication. [31] Many technical glossaries of English translations exist to combat this issue in the medical, judicial, and technological fields. [32]

Other uses

In psychiatry and neuroscience, the term neologism is used to describe words that have meaning only to the person who uses them, independent of their common meaning. [33] This can be seen in schizophrenia, where a person may replace a word with a nonsensical one of their own invention, e.g. “I got so angry I picked up a dish and threw it at the geshinker.” [34] The use of neologisms may also be due to aphasia acquired after brain damage resulting from a stroke or head injury. [35]

See also

Related Research Articles

False friend Words in two languages that sound similar but have very different meanings

In linguistics, false friends are words in different languages that look or sound similar, but differ significantly in meaning. An example is the English embarrassed and the Spanish embarazada, the word parents and the Portuguese parentes and Italian parenti, or the word sensible, which means reasonable in English, but sensitive in French, German, Italian and Spanish.

A lexicon, word-hoard, wordbook, or word-stock is the vocabulary of a language or branch of knowledge. In linguistics, a lexicon is a language's inventory of lexemes. The word lexicon derives from Greek word λεξικόν, neuter of λεξικός meaning 'of or for words'.

Pig Latin, or "Igpay Atinlay" is a language game or argot in which English words are altered, usually by adding a fabricated suffix or by moving the onset or initial consonant or consonant cluster of a word to the end of the word and adding a vocalic syllable to create such a suffix. For example, "Wikipedia" would become "Ikipediaway". The objective is to conceal the words from others not familiar with the rules. The reference to Latin is a deliberate misnomer; Pig Latin is simply a form of argot, cant, or jargon unrelated to Latin, and the name is used for its English connotations as a strange and foreign-sounding language. It is most often used by young children as a fun way to confuse people unfamiliar with Pig Latin.

Slang is language of an informal register that members of particular in-groups prefer over the common vocabulary of a standard language in order to establish group identity, exclude outsiders, or both. The word itself came about in the 18th century and has been defined in multiple ways since its conception. With each definition, the implications of slang vary.

Verlan is a type of argot in the French language, featuring inversion of syllables in a word, and is common in slang and youth language. It rests on a long French tradition of transposing syllables of individual words to create slang words. The word verlan itself is an example of verlan. It is derived from inverting the sounds of the syllables in l'envers.

Nadsat is a fictional register or argot used by the teenage gang members in Anthony Burgess's dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange. Burgess was a linguist and he used this background to depict his characters as speaking a form of Russian-influenced English. The name comes from the Russian suffix equivalent of "-teen" as in "thirteen". Nadsat was also used in Stanley Kubrick's film adaptation of the book.

A loanword is a word as adopted from one language and incorporated into another language without translation. This is in contrast to cognates, which are words in two or more languages that are similar because they share an etymological origin, and calques, which involve translation.

In linguistics, a calque or loan translation is a word or phrase borrowed from another language by literal word-for-word or root-for-root translation. When used as a verb, "to calque" means to borrow a word or phrase from another language while translating its components, so as to create a new lexeme in the target language.

Lunfardo Dialect

Lunfardo is an argot originated and developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the lower classes in Buenos Aires and from there spread to other cities nearby, such as the surrounding area Greater Buenos Aires, Rosario and Montevideo.

A root is the core of a word that is irreducible into more meaningful elements. In morphology, a root is a morphologically simple unit which can be left bare or to which a prefix or a suffix can attach. The root word is the primary lexical unit of a word, and of a word family, which carries aspects of semantic content and cannot be reduced into smaller constituents. Content words in nearly all languages contain, and may consist only of, root morphemes. However, sometimes the term "root" is also used to describe the word without its inflectional endings, but with its lexical endings in place. For example, chatters has the inflectional root or lemma chatter, but the lexical root chat. Inflectional roots are often called stems, and a root in the stricter sense, a root morpheme, may be thought of as a monomorphemic stem.

An anglicism is a word or construction borrowed from English by another language.

A cant is the jargon or language of a group, often employed to exclude or mislead people outside the group. It may also be called a cryptolect, argot, anti-language or secret language. Each term differs slightly in meaning; their use is inconsistent.

Etymology is the study of the history of words. By extension, the etymology of a word means its origin and development throughout history.

The Greek language has contributed to the English vocabulary in five main ways:

Phono-semantic matching (PSM) is the incorporation of a word into one language from another, often creating a neologism, where the word's non-native quality is hidden by replacing it with phonetically and semantically similar words or roots from the adopting language. Thus, the approximate sound and meaning of the original expression in the source language are preserved, though the new expression in the target language may sound native.

Language change is variation over time in a language's features. It is studied in several subfields of linguistics: historical linguistics, sociolinguistics, and evolutionary linguistics. Some commentators use the label corruption to suggest that language change constitutes a degradation in the quality of a language, especially when the change originates from human error or is a prescriptively discouraged usage. Modern linguistics typically does not support this concept, since from a scientific point of view such innovations cannot be judged in terms of good or bad. John Lyons notes that "any standard of evaluation applied to language-change must be based upon a recognition of the various functions a language 'is called upon' to fulfil in the society which uses it".

Protologism is a term coined in the early 2000s by American literary theorist Mikhail Epstein in reference to a word coined, by an individual or a small group, that has not yet been published independently of the coiner(s).

Arabic has had a great influence on other languages, especially in vocabulary. The influence of Arabic has been most profound in those countries visited by Islam or Islamic power.

Linguistic purism in Icelandic is the policy of discouraging new loanwords from entering the language, by creating new words from Old Icelandic and Old Norse roots. In Iceland, linguistic purism is archaising, trying to resuscitate the language of a golden age of Icelandic literature. The effort began in the early 19th century, at the dawn of the Icelandic national movement, aiming at replacing older loanwords, especially from Danish, and it continues today, targeting English words. It is widely upheld in Iceland and it is the dominant language ideology. It is fully supported by the Icelandic government through the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies, the Icelandic Language Council, the Icelandic Language Fund and an Icelandic Language Day.

The vocabulary of the Icelandic language is heavily derived from and built upon Old Norse and contains relatively few loanwords; where these do exist their spelling is often heavily adapted to that of other Icelandic words.


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