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!”

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