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Factors For The Rise Of English Neologisms English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 3219 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Languages are changing as the world is constantly changing. After the Second World War, English neologisms emerged in a remarkable way. New vocabulary came into existence due to new technologies and new discoveries such as ; computing, internet , cell phones and the like. People’s daily activities like dancing, looking and many others, renewed their popularity giving birth to new lexicon. In deed, new words are invented rapidly and are developed quickly thanks to mass communication. They appear and fall into disuse when they have served their momentary purpose ( Bernhart 54).Only a few of them will get recorded in glossaries of neologisms of general dictionaries.

The matter of neologism becomes a new hot spot of research owing to its practical and prevailing use in reality. The study of neologisms evoked a whole cluster of questions:

-What are the reasons beyond the rise of new lexicon?

-Why are some new words just a flash in a pan?

-Why are other words successful?

-What are the qualities that make a word successful?

-Are Neologisms markers of changes in societies?

Part 01: Literature Review

1.Definition of a Neologism

The term neologism originates from Greek: neos means ‘new’, logos means ‘word’, i. e. a neologism is – literally – a new word.

“Neologism is the creation of a new lexical item as a response to changed circumstances in the external world, which achieves some currency within a speech community”(qtd. in Chrystal 1992: 264) at a particular time.

In linguistics, a neologism is a newly invented word or phrase. It can be an old word or phrase used with a new meaning. The word “neologism” is a neologism itself, it was coined in 1800.

l. 2. Background of English Neologisms

The collection of dictionaries that contain neologisms started in 1604.The early Neologisms dictionarieswere: Table Alphabeticall (1604, Robert Cawdrey), English Expositor (1616, John Bullokar), and The English Dictionarie (1623, Henry Cockeram).Those dictionaries had some features of neologisms dictionaries but the true study of neologisms began in the 20 century, some 200 years later.

The first neologisms book is Word-Coinage, being an Inquiry

Into Recent Neologisms, also a Brief Study of Literary Style, Slang, and

Provincialisms by Leon Mead in 1902.It was not a real dictionaries, it contained a set of articles about new words.

In 1920, there was a remarkable progress in the research of new words with the book of C.Alphonso Smith entitled New Words Self-defined.it included 420 new words with examples.He wrote some articles entitled Words and Meanings, New.

. From 1937 to 1940, Dwight Bolinger ( Famous American Scholar) invented a column ,The Living Language, in the newspaper, Words.Later, it was changed into Among the New Words.In 1944, Professor I. Willis Russell became the editor of this column .

World War II was a major reason of the birth of new words .In 1944, Majorie Taylor collected the new words created during the War in a word-list entitled The Language of World War II: Abbreviation, captions, Quotations, Slogans, Titles and Other Terms and Phrases.At the same time, Clarence Barnhart printed his Dictionary of U.S. Army Terms.

After the World War II, science and technology development had greatly

effected the society. A lot of scientific and technical words were brought into language. A lot of neologism dictionaries about words in those fields were published. Two of them are mostly welcomed: An Explaining and Pronouncing Dictionary of Scientific and Technical Words by W. E. Flood & Michael West and Words of Sciences and the History Blind Them by Isaac Asimov.

From 1970s on, the study of English neologism drew great attention from

western scholars, many of them established special column to introduce new words in English, such as William Safire who was well known for his On Language in New York Times weekly and Anne H. Soukhanow who was the chief-editor of Word Watch.

In Safire’s column, he provided a considerably clear explanation of new words by citing typical examples, exploring their origins and performing their current usage.

The digital revolution in 1990s is the radical reshaping and restructuring of

social patterns. “Because of the wild spread of internet, America is speaking a whole new language”, said Shawn Holley in his The New Word Revolution. Lots of neologisms that have a historical significance by reason of the influence they exerted on the language field are brought into existence. According to the statistics, more than 20 neologism dictionaries have been compiled, among which some put emphasis on the academic field and some are distinctive by their popularity. Oxford English Dictionary, Webster’s Third New International Dictionary and Barhart Dictionary of New English are the ones with the highest academic value.

New words are numerous. Sometimes it seems as if a new word has about as

much chance of developing into a permanent addition to our vocabulary. Only few of them will remain as serious candidates for the dictionary. Books especially about new words are abundant. However, only a few scholars have ventured to propose factors that make for the success of new words. One is Goran Kjellmer, whose article “Potential Words” in the journal Word for August 2000 also reviews previous proposals. The other is the executive secretary of American Dialect Society, Allan Metcalf who proposed the FUDGE scale. The two reached different conclusions.

Along with books and periodicals, there is the Internet. In particular, it makes my extensive searches for examples of how words are actually used today possible. Here the author has searched thousands of pages indexed by Google.com countless times to find current uses of words under discussion.

A jump of several decades has showed us more researches on the neologisms.

Language reflects our life, and the research on the neologisms has never been stopped.

By collecting new words or phrases occurring in languages, the previous researches have provided precious materials for the further exploration in this field. Therefore, a careful look at the research background of neologisms carries an essential academic significance.

In china, the study of neologism began from 1980s. Most of the specific works

and papers are mere introduction of theories from abroad lacking of much original study. To keep up with the latest English vocabulary is really difficult, thus a thorough and systematic analysis about English new words is of practical significance both in learning and teaching of English as a foreign language.

Part 02: Factors for the Rise of English Neologisms

The resaons beyond the rise of new words are numouroes, some are internal causes or linguistic (phonological, morpho-syntactic, lexical or semantic) , others are external which , we will see in this part.

Mcmahon M.S (1994: 179-182) discusses causes of semantic change and describes the following:

Linguistic causes

Historical causes (subdivided into “ideas” and “scientific concepts”)

Social causes

Psychological causes (subdivided into “emotive factors” and “taboo”)

Foreign influence

The need for a new name

2.1. Sociolcultural Changes:

2.1.1. New ideas in Society and Culture.

Changes in social outlook and manners of behavior call for new terms such as beatnik, peacenik, and hippie. Even new culinary arrangements demand new labels and in English they have some forth in the form of cheeseburger, chiliburger, mushroomburger, etc.

(Anderson, 1973) Brian Foster presents us a striking example of how fast English vocabulary changes. In the year 1914, a young girl named Monica Baldwin entered a convent, remaining secluded there until 1941. When she returned to the outer world, she found herself in a totally different world: the conditions of everyday life altered by technical developments and social changes were beyond recognition. What’s more puzzling to her was the language people speaking. During a railway journey, the term “luggage in advance” meant nothing to her. Reading the daily newspapers made her feel idiotic in the extreme, because words like jazz, Gin, Hollywood, Cool, noshing and Isolationism were completely incomprehensible to her. Not to mention how bewildered she was at hearing friends say, “It’s your funeral” or “believe it or not”. (Brian Foster, 1981)

2.1.2. Disguising Language, “Misnomers”

Misnomers are words that replace taboo words or banned words.In order not to deceive the hearer, the taboo words are replaced to disguise their unpleaseant meaning.Examples: E. friendly fire instead of bombardment by own troops.

2.1.3.Prestige, Fashion

The superiority of a group or politics leads people to use some linguistic elements (words, morphemes, morphs, sounds) from the prestigious group.

Example: English, for instance, borrowed from French during the ME. period because the upper social classes were made up of French people:e.g. garment, flower, rose, face, prince, hour, question, dance, fork, royal, loyal, fine, zero are all Gallicisms. An other vivid example is English which is now the most prestigious language in many parts of the world.

2.1.4.Social, or Demographic, Reasons

Here, it means the contact between different social groups. As a result of this contact, new lexical items appear. In the history of the English language, the two prominent instances of exchanges between two social groups were the one with the Vikings in the 8th to 11th centuries and the one with the French in the 11th to 15th centuries.Examples: The inherited ey is replaced by Scandinavian egg, the inherited nimen is replaced by Scandinavian taken except for theform benumb, throwen is supplemented by Scandinavian casten; early French loans are army, carpenter, catch.

2.1.5.Culture-Induced Salience of a Concept (“Cultural Salience”)

The salience or the importance of concepts change with change of culture.

Example: In the US, a lot of metaphors in general language have been taken from the field of baseball, e.g. to be off base ‘to be completely wrong’, to hit a home run ‘to be highly successful’ and from the field of entrepreneurship.


The category of word play includes humor, irony and puns. Although word-play often goes hand in hand with other factors (such as taboo, prestige or anthropological salience), it can also trigger lexical change on its own. Example: to take French leave ‘to leave secretly (without paying)’, to cool ‘look’ (< look pronounced backwards, so-called back slang).

2.2 Technological Changes

New science leads to new words. Aristotle and Newton were neologists.They used new lexicon and new defintions to explain the theory of dynamics

Thus, there is no new knowledge without new terms or concepts.Generally a new invention or discovery holds the name of the inventor.

Sometimes some technical new words can be found in linguistics such as hypercorrection, allomorph, etc.

The word software for example, that computer term was invented by John

W. Tukey, a statistician at Princeton University. As long ago as 1958, he used the word in the American Mathematical Monthly. Today the “software” comprising the carefully planned interpretive routines, compilers, and other aspects of automotive programming are at least as important to the modern electronic calculator as its “hardware” of tubes, transistors, wires, tapes and the like. Tukey was already known for inventing another now- famous computer term.

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2.3 Economic Changes

Economic field has a great impact on language.We are in a competition age.This leads to new brand names that want to find a place in the economy market.The success of the product causes the suceesss of its name.The owner of the product has to spend too much money to make the prdut well-known.This is done via advertisemnts to convice peole tp but it and name it as it was advertised.Its name will be a new word in the society.

The example of Coca-Cola Company is a good example.due to the geat success of Coke, people can ask for a coke yet they will be satisfied if they are given pepsi , i.e. the word Coke nowadays refers to a soft drink like a coke.

Some technical and medical brands find their way in general vocabulary.


ô€º€ Aspirin: a name for acetylsalicylic acid, trademarked by the Bayer Company of Germany at the start of the twentieth century.

ô€º€ Elevator and escalator: both originally trademarks of the Otis Elevator Company.

ô€º€ Zipper: a name given to a “separable fastener” by the B.F. Goodrich Company many years after it was invented. The new name helped the zipper attain popularity in the 1930s.

ô€º€ Loafer: for a moccasin-like shoe.

ô€º€ Cellophane: for a transparent wrap made of cellulose.

ô€º€ Granola: a trademark registered in 1886 by W K. Kellogg, now used for a

“natural” kind of breakfast cereal.

ô€º€ Ping-pong: for table tennis, a trademark registered by Parker Brothers in 1901.

ô€º€ Xerox: for photocopier.

ô€º€ Kleenex: for facial tissue.

ô€º€ Band-Aid: for adhesive bandage.

ô€º€ Tupperware: for storage container.

ô€º€ Scotch tape: for transparent adhesive tape.

ô€º€ Jazzercise: for exercise to jazz music.

2.4. Political Changes.

Some important political changes infulence vocabulary and give birth to new words and concepts. For instance, when Mr. Bill Clinton was elected as the president of the US. His name has been associated with many political words. His policy is Clintonian, he is carrying out the Clintionism, his economics policy is Clintonomics, and his supporters were called Clintonites, he ultimately wanted to realize his Clintonization.

Another recent political event that took place on Septembet the eleventh has brought a neologism in the American society.Because of the striking coincidence that 911 is the telephone number to call for help in an emergency, that numerical designation of this event has been a success. The events of that day have resulted in a new term: ground zero, for the place of impact, the center of destruction in New York City where the World Trade Towers once stood. That phrase has succeeded because it is not really new; it’s an old term for the location on the ground directly under a vast atomic explosion, corresponding to air zero, the location in the air above the ground where the bomb goes off. No one knows who first said ground zero in reference to the site where the World Trade Towers were attacked and collapsed, but the term immediately caught on because of its familiarity and emotional power.

Part 03: Success of English Neologisms

In the previous section, we have seen the reasons of the rise of the new words and how they become part of language.In this part; we will tackle the reasons that make a word successful or the reasons that make a word part of general language dictionary.

3.1 The occurrences

The frequency of the new word in a society makes it successful.If the neologisms appears in many various sources such newspapers, magazines and books, it will be included in general dictionaries and becomes a familiar word and no more neologism.This mean the the word becomes popular if it is cited in many sources

3.2 Variety among sources

A neologism in its first appearance is common for only a special field .Thus, it is found in technical dictionaries .Consequently , general dictioanries exclude technical terms .But there are some exceptions and some technical words find their place in general dictionaries due to their range in many sources.Example , the phrase intellectual property was limited to some branches .Nowadays, it is widely spead thanks to the new technologies and inventions in each field .

3.3 Cruciality in a given field

Sheidlower defines cruciality as “the need for a word to exist” (35). Let’s take the example of the acronym AIDS invented in 1982.This acronym is still the given name to this killing disease.It will hold the same name even if a cure is invented for this disease because of the importance and cruciality of this sickness, “its referent is a crucial matter in society” (qtd. in Sheidlower 35).

The word whirlpooling, though it is the only word used to describe such a behaviour, it is not included in a general dictionary because the phenomenon is rare and unusual , “rare and unusual phenomenon” (qtd. in Sheidlower 36).

3.4 Durability or Endurance ( Existance)

Each new word appears in a specific period of time.But if it has suffiecient evidence such as frequency of occurrences, range among sources, cruciality in a given field, it may be included in a general dictionary. New Deal is a good example here.So some neologisms refer to their time period, culture, policies and the like.


If a word wants to ‘stay alive’, it has to be admitted widely in public speech and used by mass media, and/or personalities, such as politicians, authors etc. (Barnhart 56). Depending on the editor and on what kind of dictionary a coinage should enter, one factor might be more of a value than another. Of the many thousands new words created each year, about 200 new words fulfill the above-mentioned conditions and make their way into a standard dictionary. Authors, TV, radio and news reporters use these new terms on a large scale, and thus they become vogue words for a certain period of time or even forever (Barnhart 56). But then the struggle of a new word is not over yet. If it is not used anymore or lost its importance, it will be deleted in the end (Sheidlower 38).

Practical considerations play their part in the march of a word into a dictionary. Chief among these is the scope of the dictionary and its physical limitations. Because general lexicography is a commercial art form, dictionaries reflect the judgment of their makers and the needs of their publishers. Consequently, no dictionary is complete.

There is a considerable difference between general dictionaries and ‘Among the New Words’. The dictionaries’ aim is to supplement the existing English vocabulary, whereas ‘Among the New Words’ aims to chronicle the development of the English language (Barnhart 59). For this reason, these criteria stated above (2.4.1 to 2.4.4) hardly apply to ‘Among the New Words’.


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