Modern Neologisms With Extra-Linguistic Sources


English is considered to be the world’s most important language. The reasons behind coming to this conclusion include it being the most widely used language; over a third of the world’s population speak English either as a native, second, or as a foreign language. In addition to this, English also leads as the primary medium for twenty-first century science and technology. It is also important in literature as it is the language of the distinguished Shakespeare (Quirk et al.,1985, p. 3). English, as an international language, has a large vocabulary which it has absorbed from many sources including its readiness to accommodate foreign words.

Therefore, the continuously growing lexicon of an English speaker depends on the ongoing creation of new words. These newly-created words are known as neologisms and this paper’s aim is to try to give a brief analysis on them and to show why there is need for them in the first place. As mentioned, there are numerous sources from which a word can be created, however, the influence of extra-linguistic sources in the creation of neologisms will be this paper’s focus. Moreover, since the number of modern day neologisms is great and they are quite interesting and relevant they will also be touched upon by giving some examples.

What are neologisms

After consulting both the Oxford and the Cambridge Dictionaries, we can come up with the definition of the word neologism itself as ‘a newly coined word or expression’, or ‘a new meaning for an existing word’. It originates in the early 19th century from French néologisme. According to Algeo (1991, p. 2), a new word is a form or the use of a form not recorded in general dictionaries. He also addressed the fact that it is often difficult to be sure of when a word was actually created since some words might have a long ‘underground existence’ before actually being reported and used widely by people which might then result on it entering the dictionary if it had not already.

The word twerk can be given as an example since its origin seems to be in the early 19th century, but it has become frequently used only in the 2010s, however, with a different meaning than back then. Many authors, including Crystal, describe neologisms as "nonce" words in that of the many neologisms created, adapted, mutilated, very few survive. A nonce word is ’a linguistic form which a speaker consciously invents or accidentally does on a single occasion’. And when these nonce formations come to be adopted by the community they cease, by definition, to be nonce and become neologisms (Crystal, 2008, p. 329).

Therefore, we can say that a word becomes a neologism when it becomes mainstream. For example, the word selfie which according to the OED means: ‘a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media’. This word’s origin derives back to only early 21st century, exactly in 2002 and, as reported by The Telegraph, was created randomly by an Australian man who after a drunken night out referred to the self-portrait photograph as a selfie. This neologism has later on become so famous that it was named 2013’s word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries. It is worth saying that only in few cases it is known who coined the word since most neologisms have anonymous origin.

The development of a new word

Similar to Crystal’s theory, Bauer (1983) divides the process that a new word undergoes in three stages – nonce formation, institutionalization and lexicalization (p. 42). First, the word is coined through the first stage, thus, nonce formation. Then, the word can either remain as only a nonce-formation – created ad-hoc i.e. only for one occasion – or if it is accepted by the community it goes in the next stage which is institutionalization. The nonce formation only then shifts into a neologism. Finally, the neologism either becomes lexicalized (lexicalization) or slowly disappears from the vocabulary. 3. Why are new words created? The motifs for new words being concerned, Algeo (1991) explains that the need to coin new words is both pragmatic and esthetic (p. 14).

Pragmatically, when there are new things to talk about people create new words to name them. As found in an example by Crystal (1998), in 1988, in a BBC program called English Now, over a thousand proposals were sent in for new English words which do not yet exist but would be useful to name certain processes, two of them being: *blinksync – which means: the guarantee that, in any group photo, there will always be at least one person whose eyes are closed and *bagonize – which means: to wait anxiously for your suitcase to appear on the baggage carousel (p. 34). Although these two word-suggestions have not been accepted by the masses or added to the dictionary we can say that people are always ready to invent new words in order to name new things that are happening in the world. This takes us to the innovations of the world in many fields which influences greatly the creation of new words. Let us take as an example one from the field of technology.

The word smartphone according to the online Oxford Dictionaries is ‘a mobile phone that performs many of the functions of a computer, typically having a touchscreen interface, internet access, and an operating system capable of running downloaded apps’. Although its origin appears to be the 1980s (referring to a telephone enhanced only with computer technology), when checking the ‘Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of Current English’ of the year 1995 one cannot find the word smartphone at all. This might be because of its rise in fame only in the late 2010s. Therefore, we can infer that the creation and evolution of a word is determined by the frequency and context of those who use it. So even when a word makes it in the dictionary, it still depends on people’s use if that word becomes lexicalized or disappears from vocabulary.

Esthetically, however, people create and use new words to express their creativity or simply because they find delight in them. In Algeo’s words: ‘language is also a field for play and poetry’ (1991, p. 14). The works of Shakespeare have been of great influence in the development of the English language in the late Renaissance period. The words he used in his plays and sonnets are sublime and contain playfulness. Unknown to many, words like fashionable, dishearten, eventful and bedazzled – taken from Onions’ A Shakespeare Glossary – are only some of the 1700 ones he is thought to have invented. For example, in his play Macbeth, instead of using the phrase ‘a lot’, he forms a brand-new word showing great amount he named multitudinous. Neologisms created by literary sources are numerous and more of them will be shown in.

Modern day neologisms

The modern age has been very productive in creating new words every day. 21st century neologisms are widely spread by newspapers/magazines and advertisements and they tend to catch readers’ attention easily by being witty, and involving word play. This might be a strategy for the name of the product, process or establishment to be easy to remember by the addressee, for example the words Obamacare, iPad or Google. The world of internet, however, is also one which is very fruitful when it comes to new word creation. When speaking about internet language, slang (or colloquial) language is almost synonymous. Although modern day neologisms can be found throughout the whole paper, here are some other interesting ones: hater - a person who greatly dislikes a specific person or thing, friendzone - a situation in which a friendship exists between two people, one of whom has an unreciprocated romantic or sexual interest in the other or freelance, spoiler, and hipster.

In addition, modern are considered also others taken from The Oxford Dictionary of New Words like foodie (which is a person whose main interest is food), babe, decaf, buddy, and the phrase bad hair day which is defined as ‘a day on which everything seems to go wrong’ (Knowles, 1997). 5. Influence of extra-linguistic sources in the creation of new words As the world changes through invention, discovery, evolution, or personal transformation – so does language. These changes in society, whether material or intellectual, call for new words; the more intense the social change the more need we have to name new things or rename old ones. Thus invention, exploration, discovery, war, commerce, and revolution all are cause for neology to occur (Algeo, 1991, p. 1-14).

In the OED June update of the year 2017, it has been reported that more than 600 words, phrases, and senses have been added to the Oxford English Dictionary in just three months. Aside from the linguistic sources for the creation of these words, such as derivation, conversion, compounding and so on, it is important to be noted that the extra-linguistic sources are of great influence in their own way as well. These sources can be social, technological, political, scientific, economical, literary, etc. Therefore, they are simply the semantic fields where neology has occurred. Neologisms on these different fields follow, some with a definition from the OED.

Influence of technology and social networking

Technology has shaped language in many ways over the last decades. It has given rise to the creation of many neologisms and the first that comes to mind is inevitably Google; following its great use as a noun (regarding the popular search engine) it has now become accepted as a verb, synonymous with searching the Internet, i.e. to google. Other technological words are: computer, avatar, hashtag, hi-tech, troll, meme, spam, screenshot, wi-fi, web-wide, iPad, 3G, hacker etc. Social networking ones are closely related as well: vlog – blend between video and blog DM – acronym for direct message or stalker, LOL, emoji, binge-watch, zoomable, et cetera.

Influence of politics

Post-truth is 2016’s OED Word of the Year. It basically implies that the truth has become irrelevant. The concept of post-truth has been in existence for the past decade, but Oxford Dictionaries has reported that it has seen a spike in frequency in 2016 influenced by politics, precisely since the EU referendum in the UK and the presidential election in the US were in process. As a result, it has become associated with the phrase post-truth politics. The term has moved from being relatively new to being widely understood in the course of only one year. Other ones include: Brexit, spin doctor, PC (political correctness), Eurocrat, Obamacare and so on.

Influence of literature

As previously introduced, literature is very influential when it comes to the creation of new words. Examples of Shakespeare’s neologisms were given, however, many other authors invented words as well. In his novel of 1949 ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’, George Orwell created a whole language he called Newspeak. One of the words that this fictional language spawned – and one that has entered wider usage – is doublethink. It refers to the acceptance of contrary opinions or beliefs at the same time. Other words by authors are: eucatastrophe – a sudden and favorable resolution of events in a story; a happy ending (JRR Tolkien, 1944), nerd – a foolish or contemptible person who lacks social skills or is boringly studious (Dr. Seuss, 1950), or Superman (Shaw, 1903), robot (Capek, 1920), serendipity (Walpole, 1754), and sensuous (Milton, 1641).

Influence of science and economy

As scientific innovations happen every day in the world, several words are coined to name them. Some known ones are: lab, coke, Botox, bulimic, sonography, quark, astrophysics, and laser – acronym for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation. Economical neologisms are plenty as well, with some of them being: reschedule, Microfinance, bribe, exploitation, cheque, and entrepreneur – a person who sets up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit or ‘a promoter in the entertainment industry’.

Influence of borrowings in some specific fields

There is no limit when it comes to the number of words that can be created in a language. However, as adapted by Katamba (2005: 138ff) when the need for a new word arises following contact with another culture, even though people could just make a word up, in most cases they do not. If a suitable word already exists in another language, the easiest thing to do is adopt that word rather than form a new one from nothing. This can especially be noticed in a few subject areas like names of foods and drinks. Nevertheless, English is still a bigger donor of new words than borrower. coffee – originally kahveh (Turkish) avocado – originally ahuacatl (Aztec) goulash – from Hungarian enchiladas, tacos – from Mexican Spanish entrée, éclair, hors-d’oeuvre – from French Some words belonging to semantic fields such as music, dance, religion, government and politics, architecture, science, and fashion, were imported into English from the language of the pre-eminent civilization during that period (Katamba, 2005, p. 140). Arabic, as such, apart from always being associated with religion (Islam), was the language of science in the middle ages.

Thus, many words of the English vocabulary in these two areas derive from Arabic. Some scientific terms are: alchemy, algebra, zenith, alcohol, and zero. Religious ones, on the other hand: Koran, imam, caliph, mullah, Ramadan, etc. French has contributed a lot in the fields of nobility, government, the law and war. Words like president, counsellor, power, royal, prince, noble, judge, prison, crime, peace, lieutenant, RV (rendezvous), and regime have long been adapted into the English vocabulary. Many essential terms used in the arts are French, as well, like: collage, calque, genre, avant garde, renaissance, aubade, ballet, tutu etc. In the arena of dancing, however, more cultures are involved, such as samba (Brazil), rhumba (Cuba) and tango (Argentina).


The English language grows and changes every day and it goes without saying that neologisms contribute to this language growth and change in a massive way. They are essential since whenever there is need to name something new that arises in the world, one can always just invent or adapt from an existing one. As we saw, they go through three stages before becoming lexicalized, thus, through nonce formation, institutionalization and lexicalization. With the number of examples given throughout the paper the productiveness of the modern-day age in the creation of neologisms has hopefully been shown. Moreover, the semantic fields on which these neologisms have been created have been talked about. As for knowing for how long a neologism stays new, Crystal (1995) says that ‘a neologism stays new until people start to use it without thinking, or alternatively until it falls out of fashion, and they stop using it altogether. But there is never any way of telling which neologisms will stay and which will go’ (p. 134).

03 December 2019
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