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A neologism (/nˈɒləɪzəm/; from Greek νέο- néo-, "new" and λόγος lógos, "speech, utterance") is the name for a relatively new 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][2] Neologisms are often directly attributable to a specific person, publication, period, or event.

History and meaning[edit]

The term neologism is first attested in English in 1772, borrowed from French néologisme (1734).[3] A proponent of a new word or doctrine may be called a neologist. Neologists might study cultural and ethnic vernacular.

The term neologism has a broader meaning that includes not only "an entirely new lexical item" but also "a pre-existent word whose meaning has been altered", resulting in a new sense.[4][5][6] Sometimes, the latter process is called semantic shifting,[7] or semantic extension.[8][9]

This is 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 specific language, or when the existing vocabulary is insufficiently detailed.[10] Among the topics that have a relatively high frequency of acquiring neologisms are the legal fields,[11] sometimes coined by government bodies, and technology.[12]


In psychiatry, the term neologism is used to describe the use of words that have meaning only to the person who uses them, independent of their common meaning.[13] This tendency is considered normal in children, but in adults it can be a symptom of psychopathy[14] or a thought disorder (indicative of a psychotic mental illness, such as schizophrenia).[15] People with autism also may create neologisms.[16] Additionally, use of neologisms may be related to aphasia acquired after brain damage resulting from a stroke or head injury.[17]

In theology, a neologism is a relatively new doctrine (for example, Transcendentalism). In this sense, a neologist is one who proposes either a new doctrine or a new interpretation of source material such as religious texts.[18]

From literature[edit]

Neologisms may come from popular literature in different forms. Sometimes, they are simply taken from a word used in the narrative of a book; a few representative examples are "grok" (to achieve complete intuitive understanding), 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 "nymphet" from Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.

Other times the title of a book becomes the neologism, for instance, Catch-22 (from the title of Joseph Heller's novel). Alternatively, the author's name may become 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), "Kafkaesque" (from Franz Kafka, author and philosopher most renowned for The Metamorphosis) and "Ballardesque" or "Ballardian" (from J. G. Ballard, author of Crash). The word "sadistic" is derived from the cruel sexual practices Marquis de Sade described in his novels. Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle was the container of the Bokononism family of nonce words.

Another category is words derived from famous characters in literature, such as quixotic (referring to the title character in Don Quixote de la Mancha by Cervantes), a scrooge (from the main character in Dickens's A Christmas Carol), or a pollyanna (from Eleanor H. Porter's book of the same name). James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, composed in a uniquely complex linguistic style, coined the words monomyth and quark.

Neologisms have been noted as instrumental in science fiction for their ability to defamiliarize the reader and create new worlds. William Gibson makes important use of neologism in his writing.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Malmkjaer, Kirsten. (Ed.) (2006) The Linguistics Encyclopedia. eBook edition. London & New York: Routledge, p. 601. ISBN 0-203-43286-X
  2. ^ Levchenko (2010). Neologism in the Lexical System of Modern English: On the Mass Media Material. Hammer, Patrick, Tanja Hammer, Matthias Knoop, Julius Mittenzwei, Georg Steinbach u. Michael Teltscher. GRIN Verlag GbR. p. 11. ISBN 3640637313. 
  3. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, draft revision Dec. 2009, s.v.
  4. ^ Zuckermann, Ghil'ad (2003). Language Contact and Lexical Enrichment in Israeli Hebrew. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-1403917232.  P. 3
  5. ^ Sally Barr Ebest Writing from A to Z: the easy-to-use reference handbook 1999– Page 449 "A neologism is a newly coined word or phrase or a new usage of an existing word or phrase."
  6. ^ Lynne Bowker, Jennifer Pearson Working With Specialized Language 2002 Page 214 "Neologisms can also be formed in another way, however, by assigning a new meaning to an existing word."
  7. ^ Zuckermann, Ghil'ad (2003). Language Contact and Lexical Enrichment in Israeli Hebrew. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-1403917232.  Pp. 88-91
  8. ^ Ole Nedergaard Thomsen Competing models of linguistic change: evolution and beyond 2006 – Page 68 "Extensions, by contrast, are applications of extant means in new usage. Note that since individual speakers differ in their command of their shared tradition of speaking, one person's Extension may be experienced by another as a Neologism"
  9. ^ Michael D. Picone Anglicisms, Neologisms and Dynamic French 1996 – Page 3 "Proceeding now to the task of defining terms, I will begin with the more general term 'neologism'. ...A neologism is any new word, morpheme or locution and any new meaning for a pre-existent word, morpheme or locution that appears in a language. ... Likewise, any semantic extension of a pre-existent word, morpheme or locution.. but is also, by accepted definition, a neologism."
  10. ^ Mesthrie, Rajend (1995). Language and Social History: Studies in South African Sociolinguistics. p. 225. 
  11. ^ Solan, Lawrence (2012). The Oxford Handbook of Language and Law. p. 36. 
  12. ^ Greiffenstern, Sandra (2010). The Influence of Computers, the Internet and Computer-Mediated Communication on Everyday English. p. 125. 
  13. ^ G. E. Berrios (2009) Neologisms. History of Psychiatry 20: 480–496
  14. ^ "Most of us are able to combine ideas so that they are consistent with some underlying theme, but psychopaths seem to have difficulty doing so. This helps to explain the wild inconsistencies and contradictions that frequently characterize their speech. It may also account for their use of neologisms (combining the basic components of words – syllables – in ways that seem logical to them but inappropriate to others)." Robert D. Hare (1999), Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us. Guildford Press, p. 137
  15. ^ P. J. McKenna, Schizophrenia and Related Syndromes. Page 363.
  16. ^ Neologisms and idiosyncratic language in autistic speakers. J Autism Dev Disord. 1991 Jun;21(2):109-30.
  17. ^ B Butterworth, Hesitation and the production of verbal paraphasias and neologisms in jargon aphasia. Brain Lang, 1979
  18. ^ Wood, J., "The Nuttall Encyclopædia: Being a Concise and Comprehensive Dictionary of General Knowledge" (1907), [1]
  19. ^ Dunn, Robin. 2003: "The Generative Edge." Foundation 87 (2003): 73–93.
  • Algeo, John. Fifty Years among the New Words: A Dictionary of Neologisms, 1941–1991. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991. ISBN 0-521-41377-X.
  • Algeo, John, et al. "Neology Forum." Dictionaries: Journal of the Dictionary Society of North America 16 (1995): 1–108.
  • Fontaine, M. Funny Words in Plautine Comedy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.
  • Fowler, H.W., "The King's English", Chapter I. Vocabulary, Neologism, 2nd ed. 1908.
  • Wood, J., "The Nuttall Encyclopædia: Being a Concise and Comprehensive Dictionary of General Knowledge" (1907), [2]
  • Zuckermann, Ghil'ad "Cultural Hybridity: Multisourced Neologization in 'Reinvented' Languages and in Languages with 'Phono-Logographic' Script", Languages in Contrast 4 (2), pp. 281–318.

External links[edit]

General information