What Is a Neologism?

A neologism is a newly created word or phrase that has not yet been widely accepted into a language. A neologism can be created in response to new cultural or technological developments, or to fill gaps in the lexicon for concepts that were previously unnamed.

The word "neologism" comes from the Greek words "neo" (new) and "logos" (word, speech).

Formal Definition of Neologism

The noun "neologism" has the following meanings:
  • a new word, meaning, usage, or phrase.
  • the introduction or use of new words or new senses of existing words.
  • a new doctrine, especially a new interpretation of sacred writings.
  • (in the field of Psychiatry) a new word, often consisting of a combination of other words, that is understood only by the speaker: occurring most often in the speech of schizophrenics.

Table of Contents

  • The Form of a Neologism
  • Examples of Neologisms
  • Examples of Old "Neologisms"
  • Examples of Neologisms under Transition
  • Why Neologisms Are Important
  • Test Time!
neologism definition and examples
The life span of a neologism is limited because the neologism will either be formally accepted into mainstream language (at which point, it ceases to be a neologism), or it will fade into obscurity due to lack of use.

The Form of a Neologism

A neologism will usually be one of the following forms:

Examples of Neologisms

Here are explanations for the four neologism examples above:
  • Oversharers: People who post too much information (which is often boring or embarrassing) about themselves on line.
  • Digital Detox: Abstaining from electronic devices to re-engage with the physical world, typically to lower stress levels.
  • Sick: Good.
  • FOMO: FOMO is the need to remain engaged with others' activities to ensure you do not miss out on something fun, exciting, beneficial, or profitable.

Examples of Old "Neologisms"

The following former neologisms have been formally accepted into mainstream language (this usually means appearing in a respectable dictionary). As a result, they can no longer be classified as neologisms.
  • D'oh!: An exclamation meaning damn (usually after a mistake by the speaker).
  • Wicked: Good or cool.
  • To Google: To look up information on the internet.
Note: The term "old neologism" is an oxymoron (i.e., a self-contained contradiction).

Examples of Neologisms under Transition

The following neologisms can be considered under transition. In other words, they are still neologisms, but it is likely they will be accepted into mainstream language soon.
  • Metrosexual: A heterosexual man who likes the interests traditionally associated with women or homosexual men (e.g., shopping, fashion, his appearance) .
  • Noob: A person new to an online gaming community.
  • Staycation: A vacation at home or near home (usually due to financial constraints preventing a holiday abroad).
  • Troll: A person who posts obnoxious comments to an online community.

Why Neologisms Are Important

Here are three good reasons to think more carefully about neologisms.

(Reason 1) Neologisms portray a sense of the modern.

Just as archaisms (e.g., methinks, yon, forsooth) can be useful to portray a sense of the old fashioned, so neologisms can be useful to portray a sense of the modern.

(Reason 2) Neologisms might alienate or baffle some of your readers.

Neologisms can be annoying or meaningless for readers who do not operate in the field that gave birth to the neologism. By way of example, let's look at some neologisms that emerged from Twitter (or "Twitterese"):
  • Tweetup. A meetup on Twitter.
  • Tweeps. Twitter users (Twitter + people).
  • Twitterholic. Some who users Twitter too much.
  • Twittersphere. The Twitter network.
  • Twitterati. Popular users.
  • Dweeps. Drunken tweets (messages).
While these might be fun to include in your text, they all have the potential to baffle or annoy any of your readers who do not use Twitter. In other words, neologisms are a form of jargon, and using jargon is sure way to alienate some of your readers. So, use neologisms only with an appropriate audience.

(Reason 3) Is your neologism as cool as you think?

Neologisms can come to prominence quickly, but they can also fall out of fashion quickly. To those who coin them (often the teenage generation), their value is their freshness and generational relevance (i.e., their parents and younger siblings don't use the terms). When that freshness fades as the word moves into common usage, then it may no longer be considered cool but outdated. So, if you've recently stumbled across a cool neologism that you plan to use, check it's still "down with the kids." Here's food for thought:
  • Plug-and-play employee. Someone who doesn't need training.
  • (Is this a cool neologism? Well, maybe to you. But, as at 2020, it's over 20 years old.)

Key Point

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This page was written by Craig Shrives.