A neologism (/nˈɒləɪzəm/) (from Greek νέο- néo(="new") and λόγος /lógos meaning "speech, utterance") is a relatively recent or isolated term, word, or phrase that may be in the process of entering common use, but that has not been fully accepted into mainstream language.[1] Neologisms are often driven by changes in culture and technology.[2][3] In the process of language formation, neologisms are more mature than protologisms.[4] A word whose development stage is between that of the protologism (freshly coined) and neologism (new word) is a prelogism.[5]

Popular examples of neologisms can be found in science, fiction (notably science fiction), films and television, branding, literature, jargon, cant, linguistics, the visual arts, and popular culture.

Former examples include laser (1960) from Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation; robot (1941) from Czech writer Karel Čapek's play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots);[6] and agitprop (1930) (a portmanteau of "agitation" and "propaganda").[7]


Neologisms are often formed by combining existing words (see compound noun and adjective) or by giving words new and unique suffixes or prefixes. Neologisms can also be formed by blending words, for example, "brunch" is a blend of the words "breakfast" and "lunch", or through abbreviation or acronym, by intentionally rhyming with existing words or simply through playing with sounds. A relatively rare form of neologism is when proper names are used as words (e.g., boycott, from Charles Boycott), guy, Dick, and Karen.

Neologisms can become popular through memetics, through mass media, the Internet, and word of mouth, including academic discourse in many fields renowned for their use of distinctive jargon, and often become accepted parts of the language. Other times, they disappear from common use just as readily as they appeared. Whether a neologism continues as part of the language depends on many factors, probably the most important of which is acceptance by the public. It is unusual for a word to gain popularity if it does not clearly resemble other words.

History and meaning

The term neologism is first attested in English in 1772, borrowed from French néologisme (1734).[8] In an academic sense, there is no professional Neologist, because the study of such things (cultural or ethnic vernacular, for example) is interdisciplinary. Anyone such as a lexicographer or an etymologist might study neologisms, how their uses span the scope of human expression, and how, due to science and technology, they spread more rapidly than ever before in the present times.[9]

The term neologism has a broader meaning which also includes "a word which has gained a new meaning".[10][11][12] Sometimes, the latter process is called semantic shifting,[10] or semantic extension.[13][14] Neologisms are distinct from a person's idiolect, one's unique patterns of vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation.

Neologisms are usually introduced when it is found that a specific notion is lacking a term, or when the existing vocabulary lacks detail, or when a speaker is unaware of the existing vocabulary.[15] The law, governmental bodies, and technology have a relatively high frequency of acquiring neologisms.[16][17] Another trigger that motivates the coining of a neologism is to disambiguate a term which may be unclear due to having many meanings.[18]


Neologisms may come from a word used in the narrative of fiction such as novels and short stories. Examples include "grok" (to intuitively understand) from the science fiction novel about a Martian entitled Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein; "McJob" (precarious, poorly-paid employment) from Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture by Douglas Coupland; "cyberspace" (widespread, interconnected digital technology) from Neuromancer by William Gibson[19] and "quark" (Slavic slang for "rubbish"; German for a type of dairy product) from James Joyce's Finnegans Wake.

The title of a book may become a neologism, for instance, Catch-22 (from the title of Joseph Heller's novel). Alternatively, the author's name may give rise to 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 dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four) and "Kafkaesque" (from Franz Kafka).

Names of famous characters are another source of literary neologisms (e.g., quixotic, referring to the romantic and misguided title character in Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes), scrooge (from the avaricious main character in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol) and pollyanna (from the unfailingly optimistic character in Eleanor H. Porter's book of the same name).


Polari is a cant used by some actors, circus performers, and the gay subculture to communicate without outsiders understanding. Some Polari terms have crossed over into mainstream slang, in part through their usage in pop song lyrics and other works. Example include: acdc, barney, blag, butch, camp, khazi, cottaging, hoofer, mince, ogle, scarper, slap, strides, tod, [rough] trade (rough trade).

Verlan (French pronunciation: [vɛʁlɑ̃]), (verlan is the reverse of the expression "l'envers") is a type of argot in the French language, featuring inversion of syllables in a word, and is common in slang and youth language. It rests on a long French tradition of transposing syllables of individual words to create slang words.[20]:50 Some verlan words, such as meuf ("femme", which means "woman" roughly backwards), have become so commonplace that they have been included in the Petit Larousse.[21] Like any slang, the purpose of verlan is to create a somewhat secret language that only its speakers can understand. Words becoming mainstream is counterproductive. As a result, such newly common words are re-verlanised: reversed a second time. The common meuf became feumeu.[22][23]

Neologism development may be spurred, or at least spread, by popular culture. Examples of pop-culture neologisms include the American Alt-right (2010s), the Canadian portmanteau "Snowmageddon" (2009), the Russian parody "Monstration" (ca. 2004), Santorum (c. 2003).

Neologisms spread mainly through their exposure in mass media. The genericizing of brand names, such as "coke" for Coca-Cola, "kleenex" for Kleenex facial tissue, and "xerox" for Xerox photocopying, all spread through their popular use being enhanced by mass media.[24]

However, in some limited cases, words break out of their original communities and spread through social media. "DoggoLingo", a term still below the threshold of a neologism according to Merriam-Webster,[25] is an example of the latter which has specifically spread primarily through Facebook group and Twitter account use.[25] The suspected origin of this way of referring to dogs stems from a Facebook group founded in 2008 and gaining popularity in 2014 in Australia. In Australian English it is common to use diminutives, often ending in –o, which could be where doggo-lingo was first used.[25] The term has grown so that Merriam-Webster has acknowledged its use but notes the term needs to be found in published, edited work for a longer period of time before it can be deemed a new word, making it the perfect example of a neologism.[25]


In Danish a bag-in-box wine is known as papvin literally meaning "cardboard wine". This neologism was first recorded in 1982[26]

Because neologisms originate in one language, translations between languages can be difficult.

In the scientific community, where English is the predominant language for published research and studies, like-sounding translations (referred to as 'naturalization') are sometimes used.[27] Alternatively, the English word is used along with a brief explanation of meaning.[27] The four translation methods are emphasized in order to translate neologisms: transliteration, transcription, the use of analogues, calque or loan translation.[28]

When translating from English to other languages, the naturalization method is most often used.[29] The most common way that professional translators translate neologisms is through the Think aloud protocol (TAP), wherein translators find the most appropriate and natural sounding word through speech.[30] As such, translators can use potential translations in sentences and test them with different structures and syntax. Correct translations from English for specific purposes into other languages is crucial in various industries and legal systems.[31][32] Inaccurate translations can lead to 'translation asymmetry' or misunderstandings and miscommunication.[32] Many technical glossaries of English translations exist to combat this issue in the medical, judicial, and technological fields.[33]

Other uses

In psychiatry and neuroscience, the term neologism is used to describe words that have meaning only to the person who uses them, independent of their common meaning.[34] This can be seen in schizophrenia, where a person may replace a word with a nonsensical one of their own invention (e.g., "I got so angry I picked up a dish and threw it at the geshinker").[35] The use of neologisms may also be due to aphasia acquired after brain damage resulting from a stroke or head injury.[36]

See also


  1. Anderson, James M. (2006). Malmkjær, Kirsten (ed.). The Linguistics encyclopedia (Ebook ed.). London: Routledge. p. 601. ISBN 0-203-43286-X.
  2. McDonald, L. J. (2005). The meaning of e- : neologisms as markers of culture and technology /.
  3. Forgue, Guy (1979). "American Neologisms as a Reflection of Cultural Change since 1945". Proceedings of a Symposium on American Literature: 199–211.
  4. Gryniuk, D (2015). On Institutionalization and De-Institutionalization of Late 1990s Neologisms. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. p. 150. This process [of lexicalization] does not seem to be coincidental because neologisms themselves are prone to go through certain stages of transformation. They began as unstable creations (otherwise called prelogisms), that is, they are extremely new, being proposed, or being used only by a small subculture
  5. Anesa, Patrizia (2018). "Three, 3". Lexical Innovation in World Englishes: Cross-fertilization and Evolving Paradigms. Routledge.
  6. Zunt, Dominik. "Who did actually invent the word "robot" and what does it mean?". The Karel Čapek website. Archived from the original on 2013-01-23. Retrieved 2017-02-05.
  7. Leshchenko, Svetlana (December 6, 2015). Modern Russian-English Dictionary. Lulu Press, Inc. p. 7. ISBN 978-1-329-74063-1.
  8. "Neologism" (draft revision). Oxford English Dictionary. December 2009.
  9. "THE MEANING OF "e-": Neologisms as Markers of Culture and Technology". 2019-03-28. Archived from the original on 2019-03-28. Retrieved 2019-03-28.
  10. Zuckermann, Ghilʻad (2003). Language contact and lexical enrichment in Israeli Hebrew (2nd ed.). New York: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 3. ISBN 978-1403917232.
  11. Sally Barr Ebest Writing from A to Z: the easy-to-use reference handbook 1999 – p. 449 "A neologism is a newly coined word or phrase or a new usage of an existing word or phrase."
  12. Lynne Bowker, Jennifer Pearson Working With Specialized Language 2002 p. 214 "Neologisms can also be formed in another way, however, by assigning a new meaning to an existing word."
  13. Ole Nedergaard Thomsen Competing models of linguistic change: evolution and beyond 2006 – p. 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"
  14. Michael D. Picone Anglicisms, Neologisms and Dynamic French 1996 – p. 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."
  15. Mesthrie, Rajend (1995). Language and Social History: Studies in South African Sociolinguistics. p. 225.
  16. Solan, Lawrence (2012). The Oxford Handbook of Language and Law. p. 36.
  17. Greiffenstern, Sandra (2010). The Influence of Computers, the Internet and Computer-Mediated Communication on Everyday English. p. 125.
  18. Cowan, Robert. "Shadow of a Doubt: A Phantom Caesura in Horace Odes 4.14." Classical Journal, The 109.4 (2014): 407–417.
  19. Dunn, Robin. 2003: "The Generative Edge." Foundation 87 (2003): 73–93.
  20. Lefkowitz, Natalie (1991). Talking Backwards, Looking Forwards: The French Language Game Verlan. Gunter Narr Verlag. ISBN 3823340735.
  21. See the Petit Larousse itself. These words are also given on the Larousse website: keuf meuf ripou
  22. Valdman, Albert (2000). "La Langue des faubourgs et des banlieues: de l'argot au français populaire". The French Review (in French). 73 (6).
  23. Lefkowitz, Natalie J (1989). "Verlan: talking backwards in French". The French Review. 63 (2).
  24. Sayadi, Forough (April 2011). "The Translation of Neologisms". Translation Journal.
  25. Boddy, Jessica (April 23, 2017). "Dogs Are Doggos: An Internet Language Built Around Love For The Puppers". National Public Radio.
  26. Opslag "Papvin" på
  27. Linder, Daniel (2016). "Non-native scientists, research dissemination and English neologisms: What happens in the early stages of reception and re-production?". Iberica. 32: 35–58.
  28. "The Translation of English Neologisms". Terminology Coordination Unit [DGTRAD]. European Parliament. 22 June 2015.
  29. Lindblad, Jonathan. 2017. "Translation strategies of H.P. Lovecraft's neologisms into Japanese." Networked Digital Library of Theses & Dissertations
  30. Moghadas, Seyed (2014). "A Model for Cognitive Process of Neologisms Translation". International Journal of English Language & Translation Studies. 2 (1): 4–19.
  31. Liu, Hui (2014). "A Probe Into Translation Strategies of Tech English Neologism in Petroleum Engineering Field". Studies in Literature and Language. 9 (1): 33–37.
  32. Kerremans, Koen (2014). "Studying the Dynamics of Understanding and Legal Neologisms within a Linguistically Diverse Judicial Space: The Case of Motherhood in Belgium". International Conference; Meaning in Translation: Illusion of Precision. 231: 46–52.
  33. Navarro, F (2008). "Controversies in dermatology: One-Hundred Fifty English Words and Expressions in Dermatology That Present Difficulties or Pitfalls for Translation Into Spanish". Actas Dermosifiliográficas (English Edition). 99 (5): 349–362. doi:10.1016/s1578-2190(08)70268-3.
  34. Berrios, G. E. (2009). "Neologisms". History of Psychiatry. 20 (4): 480–496. doi:10.1177/0957154x08348532. PMID 20481134. S2CID 13205195.
  35. Kuperberg, Gina R. (2010). "Language in schizophrenia Part 1: an Introduction". Language and Linguistics Compass. 4 (8): 576–589. doi:10.1111/j.1749-818X.2010.00216.x. ISSN 1749-818X. PMC 2950318. PMID 20936080.
  36. B Butterworth, Hesitation and the production of verbal paraphasias and neologisms in jargon aphasia. Brain Lang, 1979
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