Sunday, October 18, 2015

More On Neologisms

I love word play! Puns, spoonerisms, double entendres, portmanteaux, paraprosdokian sentencesredundant acronym syndrome acronyms, and humorous neologisms are bound to delight me. Results may vary...

Inspired by the viral list of neologisms you've undoubtedly seen, I published a collection of 100 pretty good examples. And then, before the ink was even dry, I set out to offer a little more on (moron) this type of humor.


1. new word, expression, or usage.
2. The creation or use of new words or senses.

You know that list of 14 funny neologisms which just showed up in your Facebook newsfeed (or possibly in your email inbox if you are over 50 years old)? The one that starts with "Coffee: the person upon whom one coughs"? These are great neologisms, but (a) they are not new and (b) they are not the product of something called the Mensa Invitational!

As a subscriber of the Washington Post, a decades-long fan of WaPo's weekly Style Invitational feature (including annual neologism contests), and a lapsed Mensan, I feel a certain compulsion to point out that this list has been circulating for years. It is not new, though occasionally someone will modify the content with an updated year (the 2008 list was relabeled as the 2009 list, for example). The annual results are often repeated on other websites, such as with attribution to WaPo, but for some reason a version incorrectly attributed to Mensa is persistently making the rounds.

Points to ponder:
  • Neologisms are real, naturally occurring features of a living language 
  • The annual Washington Post Style Invitational contest invites readers to come up with especially creative forms of neologisms. 
  • Each year, the Style Invitational contest has some sort of twist to the rules, e.g., change the word by one letter, or move the first letter to the end of the word, or spell the word in reverse order.
  • People like and tend to combine and recirculate the lists
  • Possibly as an homage to the cleverness of Style Invitational contestants, one popular version of the list has been mistakenly attributed to Mensa, the high IQ society
  • After a neologism becomes accepted into mainstream language it is no longer a "new word" 

If you are interested in researching the history of various lists in circulation, please examine the following links:

If you are interested in enjoying a list of 100 neologisms, and perhaps sharing some of your own, feast your eyes on this alphabetical list collected from various sources.

What happens when a newly created word moves beyond the humor category and enters the formal lexicon? The following neologisms have been formally accepted into mainstream language, as evidenced by 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.
  • Google: To look up information on the Internet.

Here are 19 more former neologisms invented by famous writers
  • Banana republic
  • Beatnik
  • Cyberspace
  • Freelance
  • Hard-Boiled
  • Butterfingers
  • Chortle
  • Doormat
  • Factoid
  • Feminist
  • Gremlin
  • Meme
  • Nerd
  • Oxbridge
  • Pedestrian
  • Scientist
  • Workaholic
  • Twitter
  • Yahoo

And here are 12 brand names or words created especially for advertising or PR campaigns that are now used generically.
  • Aspirin
  • Hoover
  • Laundromat
  • Band-aid
  • Kleenex
  • Frisbee
  • Tipex
  • Xerox
  • Tupperware
  • Escalator
  • Granola
  • Zipper
My final contribution to this post offering more on neologisms is a mention of the Urban Dictionary, a crowd-sourced compendium of often humorous, occasionally scandalous new words and slang. 

A living language evolves.