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Wilfrid Laurier University Centre for Student Success
August 25, 2016
Canadian Excellence


New Words

New Words

by Joseph Brannan

Have you ever invented a new word? Stuck two known words together haphazardly to express the mash-up concept you wish to communicate? Though the majority of the structure and functional words of the English language has been established for hundreds of years, new words get created all the time, from technological innovations making “google” a verb, to slang terms such as “selfie” and blends like “spork.”

Though neologisms (newly coined words) often offend the more traditional minded in terms of standards of vocabulary or grammar, to the linguist, there is no such thing as “bad grammar”; new words are an exciting step in the continually changing realm of language.

However arbitrary and mass-culture these novel words can seem, they follow rigid linguistic rules in their formation and use. The combination of two words to form a new word, or a blend, for example, must work within the constraints of the existing morphemes, or units of language, and retain characteristics of those morphemes so that the newly created word is understandable and makes sense to the reader.

If ‘spoon’ and‘fork’ had been mashed together to form “spfork,” spooork,” fpoon,” or any number of other permutations of the available letters, the results are awkward, illogical, and violate our common sense about the mechanics of our language. “Spfork” doesn’t work because the three consonants in a row represent an attempted sound that, though potentially acceptable in other languages, is not acceptable in English (for now).

Some created words can be made from “back-formation” or changing the word based on the subtraction of affixes. One can be inept at something, and the assumption is that by removing the prefix “in-” the meaning could be reversed, yet nobody compliments an individual’s skills by commenting on how “ept” they are at a certain task.

It can be quite fun to try to form new words based on the etymological meanings of the components used. For example, the word “pandemonium” refers to “a place or state of utter confusion and uproar” (Oxford English Dictionary/OED). The beginning of the word, “pan-” is derived from the ancient Greek prefix παν-, and is defined in the OED as “Forming terms relating to the whole of the universe or mankind, or denoting that the second element exists or operates at a universal level.” If this is the case, and “pandemic” means “of a disease: epidemic over a very large area; affecting a large proportion of a population” (OED), and “endemic” differs in referring to something “constantly or regularly found among a (specified) people, or in a (specified) country” (OED), then it would follow that we could form the word “endemonium,” meaning confusion and uproar in a specified area.

Though “endemonium” is not currently recognized in any dictionary as an official part of the English language, it might be someday. As a speaker of English, you have influence over its use and therefore the future of the language, in a small way. What words might you wish to add to our lexicon? Let your imagination loose and feel free to create a piece of history and language by forging new words!

Works Cited

"endemic, adj. and n.". OED Online. September 2013. Oxford University Press. Web. 11 October 2013.

"pan-, comb. form.". OED Online. September 2013. Oxford University Press. Web. 11 October 2013.

"pandemic, adj. and n.". OED Online. September 2013. Oxford University Press. Web. 11 October 2013.

"pandemonium, n.". OED Online. September 2013. Oxford University Press. Web. 11 October 2013.


1 person has commented
1 Emmy Misser - 17 Oct 2013

This is a great piece. I don't think it can be said often enough that we can exercise control over how we use the language we speak. Thanks Joseph.

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