neologisms

Neologisms illustrate that language morphs. Neologisms can also be wicked fun.

Merriam Webster’s offers two definitions: “a new word, usage, or expression” and “a meaningless word coined by a psychotic.” Hmmm. The word derives from the French, néologisme–né means “born,” and so we have the birth of a new word or phrase.

“Bootylicious” and “soccer mom” win two out of the eight places in Emily Temple’s article at Flavorwire, “The Story Behind 8 of the Most Irritating Neologisms,” a source I found after googling “famous neologisms.” And “google” as a verb is listed as a neologism in “54 Great Examples of Modern-Day Neologisms.” These examples also prove that in order for a neologism to be fully born, it must be used. A lot.

Two current examples serve as neologisms because they’ve garnered new-found celebrity: “iconic” and “meme.” I encountered “icon” and “meme” in my literary criticism classes, where an icon was a sign (semiotics) or a symbol, and a meme belonged to mimesis, or the art of imitation and representation. Notice that the adjective form of “icon” is the current neologism. Listen to the nightly news, and I swear, you’ll run screaming from the living room after the twelfth pronouncement that something is “iconic.” Because “iconic” and “meme” have switched academic addresses to established social media residences, I think they qualify as neologisms.

Word play. Oxymorons (“jumbo shrimp”), portmanteaus (“brunch”), and dare I say, the lowly pun (as Mercutio dies, he says, “Tomorrow … thou shalt find me a grave man”)–these all indicate what we linguistic beings know: language can be a blast. The joy of messing with it, transforming it, re-creating it–that’s a creative rush.

The wicked fun part is celebrated by The Washington Post’s weekly Style Invitationals, which may ask you to create a neologism by offering a new meaning for a word or by altering a word (change one letter or spell it backwards, for instance) and then giving the new definition. Example: coffee (noun) – the person upon whom one coughs. Ha! Check out the archives for each weekly invitational and treat yourself to some wordy guffaws.

And now for another neologism, one that I believe should become an iconic meme. My youngest sister, MJ, came up with the word perplangst. At first, she thought of “perplangsty,” a portmanteau using “perplexed” and “angsty.” “Angsty” is itself a neologism, transforming the noun, “angst,” into a new adjective, “angsty.” But “perplangsty” just doesn’t sound right.* The solid ending of “perplangst” offers a definitive jitteriness, I think. So MJ revised her neologism. If you’re confused some time today, and you’re fretting about being baffled, go ahead–say it: “I’m so perplangst!”

*If, however, you are using the word in a derogatory manner, adding the “y” to the end seems appropriate, as in, “Don’t get all perplangsty on me now!”

5 thoughts on “neologisms

  1. I wonder if this could be a new job category: lexpionage, adj.
    Lexical espionage; the sleuthing of new words and phrases, especially as practiced by The Word Spy.

  2. Superb blog! Do you have any hints for aspiring writers?
    I’m planning to start my own website soon but I’m a little lost on everything.
    Would you advise starting with a free platform like
    Wordpress or go for a paid option? There are so many options out there that I’m totally confused ..
    Any suggestions? Thank you!

    • Definitely WordPress–or another free blog platform. WordPress is easy to get started, easy to maintain and customize. Good luck with your work!

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