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Oct 21, 2005
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Words about words

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This week's theme: words about words.

(nee-OL-uh-gist) noun: One who coins, uses, or introduces new words, or redefines old words in a language.

From French néologisme, from Greek neo- (new) + logos (word).

"But as Esther notes, the word 'afghan' has acquired connotations in the last year that it didn't always have. She could start referring to 'blankets,' Esther says. But those tend to be machine-made, and Esther the afghan-maker isn't a machine. So Esther has invited Levey's neologists to think up a more appropriate word."
Bob Levey; Neighborliness Gone; The Washington Post; Aug 28, 2002.

See more usage examples of neologist in Vocabulary.com's dictionary.

A language grows by infusion of new words. Anyone who has been on the Internet for more than a few days knows what a webmaster is. Yet only a few years ago if we came across a "webmaster", we wouldn't know what that person did for a living.

There are many ways to coin words. You can make words out of thin air: googol, a word for a very large number (1 followed by 100 zeros) was coined by a nine-year-old boy. It was the inspiration behind the naming of the Google search engine.

You can redefine old words. The Google name, in turn, became genericized as a verb meaning to search for something, not necessarily on the Web.

You can sandwich two existing words (web + master) or you can fuse them together: lexpert (lex + expert), someone who is an expert in words. Such an amalgamated word is also known as a portmanteau (from French, meaning a bag for carrying clothes, one that opens on two sides) since Lewis Carroll gave them this moniker in his 1872 classic "Through the Looking-Glass". Carroll himself coined some great portmanteaux, such as chortle (chuckle + snort), and slithy (slimy + lithe).

Coining words is easy. Getting them into a dictionary, now that's a topic for another time.


Poetry is the clear expression of mixed feelings. -W.H. Auden, poet (1907-1973)

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