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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]

A neologism is a word, term, or phrase that has been recently created (or "coined"), often to apply to new concepts, to synthesize pre-existing concepts, or to make older terminology sound more contemporary. Neologisms are especially useful in identifying inventions, new phenomena, or old ideas that have taken on a new cultural context. The term e-mail, as used today, is an example of a neologism.

Neologisms are by definition "new", and as such are often directly attributable to a specific individual, publication, period, or event. The term "neologism" was itself coined around 1800, so in the early 19th century, the word "neologism" was itself a neologism.

In psychiatry, the term is used to describe the use of words that only have meaning to the person who uses them, independent of their common meaning. It is considered normal in children, but a symptom of thought disorder (indicative of a psychotic mental illness, such as schizophrenia) in adults. Use of neologisms may also be related to aphasia acquired after brain damage resulting from a stroke or head injury.[1] People with autism may also create neologisms.[2]

In theology, a neologism is a relatively new doctrine (for example, rationalism). In this sense, a neologist is an innovator in the area of a doctrine or belief system, and is often considered heretical or subversive by the mainstream clergy or religious institution(s).

Changing culture

Neologisms tend to occur more often in cultures which are rapidly changing, and also in situations where there is easy and fast propagation of information.[citation needed] They are often created by combining existing words (see compound noun and adjective) or by giving words new and unique suffixes or prefixes. Those which are portmanteaux are shortened. Neologisms can also be created through abbreviation or acronym, by intentionally rhyming with existing words, or simply through playing with sounds.

Neologisms often become popular through memetics – by way of mass media, the Internet, word of mouth (including academic discourse, renowned for its jargon, with recent coinages such as Fordism, Taylorism, Disneyfication and McDonaldization now in everyday use).[citation needed] (See also Wiktionary's Neologisms:unstable or Protologism pages for a wiki venue of popularizing newly coined words). Every word in a language was, at some time, a neologism[citation needed], ceasing to be such through time and acceptance.

Neologisms often become accepted parts of the language. Other times, however, they disappear from common usage. Whether a neologism continues as part of the language depends on many factors, probably the most important of which is acceptance by the public. Acceptance by linguistic experts and incorporation into dictionaries also plays a part, as does whether the phenomenon described by a neologism remains current, thus continuing to need a descriptor.[citation needed] It is unusual, however, for a word to enter common use if it does not resemble another word or words in an identifiable way. (In some cases, however, strange new words succeed because the idea behind them is especially memorable or exciting; for example, the word 'quiz', which Richard Daly brought into the English language by writing it on walls all around Dublin[citation needed].) When a word or phrase is no longer "new", it is no longer a neologism. Neologisms may take decades to become "old", however. Opinions differ on exactly how old a word must be to no longer be considered a neologism; cultural acceptance probably plays a more important role than time in this regard.

Evolution of neologisms

Newly created words entering a language tend to pass through stages that can be described as:[citation needed]

  • Unstable - Extremely new, being proposed, or being used only by a small subculture (also known as protologisms).
  • Diffused - Having reached a significant audience, but not yet having gained widespread acceptance.
  • Stable - Having gained recognizable and probably lasting acceptance.
  • Dated - The point where the word has ceased holding novelty and has passed into cliché, formal linguistic acceptance, or become culturally dated in its use.

Sources of neologism

For a list of topically arranged protologisms (very-recently-coined terms), see Wiktionary:List of protologisms by topic.


Words or phrases created to describe new scientific hypotheses, discoveries, or inventions. Examples:

Science fiction

Concepts created to describe new, futuristic ideas. Examples:

Literature more generally

See "Neologisms in literature" topic below.


Words or phrases created to make some kind of political or rhetorical point, sometimes perhaps with an eye to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. Examples:

Popular culture

Words or phrases evolved from mass media content or used to describe popular culture phenomena (these may be considered a variety of slang as well as neologisms). Examples:

Commerce and advertising

Genericised trademarks. Examples:


Words or phrases created to describe new language constructs. Examples:


Miscellaneous sources. Examples:

  • nonce words — words coined and used only for a particular occasion, usually for a special literary effect.

Neologisms in literature

Many neologisms have come from popular literature, and tend to appear in different forms. Most commonly, they are simply taken from a word used in the narrative of a book; a few representative examples are: "grok" (to achieve complete intuitive understanding), from Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein; "McJob", from Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture by Douglas Coupland; "cyberspace", from Neuromancer by William Gibson. Sometimes the title of the book will become the neologism, for instance, Catch-22 (from the title of Joseph Heller's novel). Also worthy of note is the case in which the author's name becomes 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 novel Nineteen Eighty-Four) and "Ballardesque" or "Ballardian" (from J.G. Ballard, author of Crash). Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle was the container of the Bokononism family of nonce words. Another category is words derived from famous characters in literature, such as "quixotic" (referring to the titular character in Don Quixote de la Mancha by Cervantes), a "scrooge" (from the main character in Dickens's A Christmas Carol), or a "pollyanna" (from Eleanor H. Porter's book of the same name). James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, composed in a uniquely complex linguistic style, coined the words monomyth and quark.

Lewis Carroll's poem "Jabberwocky" has been called[attribution needed] "the king of neologistic poems" because it incorporated dozens of invented words. The early modern English prose writings of Sir Thomas Browne are the source of many neologisms as recorded by the OED.


"Yesterday's neologisms, like yesterday's jargon, are often today's essential vocabulary."
– Academic Instincts, 2001[2]

See also


  1. B Butterworth, Hesitation and the production of verbal paraphasias and neologisms in jargon aphasia. Brain Lang, 1979
  2. P. J. McKenna, Schizophrenia and Related Syndromes. Page 363.


  • Fowler, H.W., "The King's English", Chapter I. Vocabulary, Neologism, 2nd ed. 1908.

External links

General information



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