Home > 8. The Dragons of Grammar > Neologisms–The Red Dragon!

Neologisms–The Red Dragon!

One should never underestimate a dragon, and especially a Dragon of Grammar. Now RT must confess that when he listed out the original Dragons of Grammar, he made a serious oversight and failed to mention the Red Dragon, the Dragon of Neologisms. Personal Circumstances Be Damned! External Reality Be Burned to a Crisp! As the Red Dragon has been reminding me, the oversight really ought to be corrected.

& RT can see that he needs a break from the sturm und drang of his recent existence; so, without further ado…

A neologism is a new word, a word that has been recently coined. Neologisms, like dandelion seeds, happen more often than one might think. Here are some examples:

* radar (1941); warp speed (1966); meme (1976); alien space bats (1998); political correctness (1970); prequel (1958); and–last but not least–Brangelina (2005).

How are often are neologisms generated? Without getting too scientific, RT would venture that new words (and new phrases and grammatical structures) are created all the time in the spontaneous working of the mind to convey itself to others. It may even be that this spontaneous creation is a sign of mental health and energy.

So when is a neologism accepted as a word and included in (at at least some) dictionaries? The short answer is: it is accepted when it is frequently and widely used. Some words, for instance, warp-speed, doubtless found themselves almost immediately recognized–such is the power of the TV. Others quickly come into use in a certain community–as Brangelina doubtless did in the entertainment industry–but never gain usage in the broader community of speakers. Many people simply never run across the word. Others will be accepted for a time and then fade away–anyone remember guesstimate?

It may be that some neologisms are better at conveying meaning than others. How do we distinguish the pick of the litter(s)? Some suggestions follow:

1) A neologism should fill a need or gap in communication. Radar is a good example–it names a new technology that previously was labeled with a string of words: Radio Detection and Ranging (acronym: RADAR).

2) A neologism should express the speaker’s emotional frame of mind: “Hey, he ripped me off!” You can feel just how angry the victim of robbery is…and it just plain sounds better than “he robbed me!”

3) A neologism should be easier to pronounce than the word(s) currently used to convey a thought: for instance, zeitgeist for spirit of the times or Xerox for photocopy.

4) A neologism should be eloquent: it should enrich the sound of the language. For instance, ansible.

So there it is, folks: our lastest (and did i mention that neologisms sometimes originate as mistakes, in this case for latest) addition to the Dragons of Grammar. A final note: Wikipedia has more information about word formation.    RT

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Image: Dragon Rouge; WikiCmns; Public Domain.

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  1. May 4, 2012 at 7:27 pm

    Wonderful entry, Eric. Entertaining, informative, and so well-written. You “rock!” does that count. 🙂 xo Cindy

  2. May 4, 2012 at 9:33 pm

    thanks, cindy, for your enthusiastic words…. eric

  3. May 10, 2012 at 1:31 am

    I wish all neologisms were elegant, but some are not—at least not to me. Take blog, for example, which I find to be an unattractive word, even if it has an intriguing etymology:

    http://wordconnections.wordpress.com/2010/09/02/blog/

    • May 10, 2012 at 6:00 pm

      Steve: thanks for the comment, and the link to your blog…latin america is an underappreciated region… eric

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