A neologism (//; 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. Neologisms are often driven by changes in culture and technology, and may be directly attributable to a specific person, publication, period, or event. In the process of language formation, neologisms are more mature than protologisms. A word whose development stage is between that of the protologism (freshly coined) and neologism (new word) is a prelogism.
Neologisms are often created by combining existing words (see compound noun and adjective) or by giving words new and unique suffixes or prefixes. Portmanteaux are combined words that are sometimes used commonly. "Brunch" is an example of a portmanteau word (breakfast + lunch). Neologisms also can be created through abbreviation or acronym, by intentionally rhyming with existing words or simply through playing with sounds.
Neologisms can become popular through memetics, by way of 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, however, 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, however, for a word to enter common use if it does not resemble another word or words in an identifiable way.
When a word or phrase is no longer "new", it is no longer a neologism. Neologisms may take decades to become "old", however. Opinions differ on exactly how old a word must be to cease being considered a neologism.
Popular examples of neologism can be found in science, fiction, branding, literature, linguistic and popular culture. Examples include laser (1960) from Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation, robotics (1941), agitprop (1930).
History and meaning
The term neologism is first attested in English in 1772, borrowed from French néologisme (1734). A proponent of a new word or doctrine may be called a neologist, such as Donald Trump being called the "neologist-in-chief" (itself a neologism, combining neologist and commander-in-chief) behind "covfefe". 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 science and technology, they spread more rapidly than ever before in the present times.
The term neologism has a broader meaning that includes not only "an entirely new lexical item" but also an existing word whose meaning has been altered. Sometimes, the latter process is called semantic shifting, or semantic extension. Neologisms are distinct from a person's idiolect, one's unique patterns of vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation.
Neologisms are usually introduced when an individual or individuals find that a specific notion is lacking a term in a language, or when the existing vocabulary is insufficiently detailed, or when the neologist is unaware of the existing vocabulary. The law, governmental bodies, and technology have a relatively high frequency of acquiring neologisms. Another trigger that motivates neologists and protologists to coin a neologism is in order to disambiguate a previously existing term that may have been obscure or vague due to having multiple senses.
Neologisms may come from a word used in the narrative of a book. Examples include "grok" from Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein; "McJob" from Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture by Douglas Coupland; "cyberspace" from Neuromancer by William Gibson and "quark" 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 novel Nineteen Eighty-Four) and "Kafkaesque" (from Franz Kafka).
Names of famous characters are another source of literary neologisms, e.g. quixotic (referring to the title character in Don Quixote de la Mancha by Cervantes), scrooge (from the main character in Dickens's A Christmas Carol) and pollyanna (from Eleanor H. Porter's book of the same name).
Neologism development may be spurred, or at least spread, by popular culture. Examples of recent pop-culture neologisms include the American Alt-right, the Canadian portmanteau "Snowmageddon", and the Russian parody "Monstration".
Principally, neologisms propagate 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 becoming enhanced by mass media.
However, in some limited cases, words are used or developed in small communities then spread through the use of social media. "Doggo-Lingo", a term still below the threshold of a neologism according to Merriam-Webster, is an example of the latter which has specifically spread primarily through Facebook group and Twitter account use. The suspected origin of this way of referring to dogs stems from a Facebook group created 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. 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.
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. Alternatively, the English word is used along with a brief explanation of meaning. The four translation methods are emphasized in order to translate neologisms: transliteration and transcription, the use of analogues, calque and loan translation.
When translating from English to other languages, the naturalization method is most often used. 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 new word through speech. This way, translators are able to use potential translated neologisms 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. Inaccurate translations can lead to 'translation asymmetry' or conceptual misunderstandings which can lead to miscommunication. Many technical glossaries of English translations exist to combat this issue in the medical, judicial, and technological fields.
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. The use of neologisms may also be due to aphasia acquired after brain damage resulting from a stroke or head injury.
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This process [of lexicalization] does not seem to be coincidental because neologisms themselves are prone to go through certain stages of transformation. They began as unstable creations (otherwise called protologisms), that is, they are extremely new, being proposed, or being used only by a small subculture
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- Fowler, H.W., "The King's English", Chapter I. Vocabulary, Neologism
- Algeo, John. Fifty Years among the New Words: A Dictionary of Neologisms, 1941–1991 ISBN 0-521-41377-X
- Rice University Neologisms Database
- Neologisms from the Internet – with Esther Dyson, Jimmy Wales and more...