Thursday, May 10, 2012

Neologisms

File:Praat-spectrogram-tatata.png

It’s no secret around here that I have a soft spot for the field of linguistics. While, sadly, editorial work doesn’t have me poring over sound spectrograms to analyze the formants of human speech, we do get to enjoy working with words on a daily basis and working with other editors who just happen to enjoy words as well. Yes, we editors get a bit geeky about words. It’s true.

I especially have fun noticing newly coined words or terms. New words are created in a number of systematic ways:
     affixation--adding a prefix or suffix to an existing word, such as actionize
    
acronym--a word formed from the first letter of each word of a term, such as lol
    
backformation--removing part of a word that resembles an affix (or other morpheme), such as couth from uncouth
    
clipping--chopping off part of a word to create a shorter form with the same meaning, such as app from application
    
compounding--putting two existing root words together to form a new word, e.g. flashmob
    
conversion—using an existing word as a different part of speech without changing the form of the word, as Tebow (verb, “to kneel down for a prayer before a game”) from Tebow (noun) 
And my favorite—which seems to be a lot of other people’s favorite as well, going by the number of new coinages of this type:
     blends (aka portmanteau words)—words formed from parts (but not necessarily full, meaningful fragments) of two or more existing words.

I’ve been seeing words that are new to me—though note that this doesn’t mean they’re actually very new--everywhere lately. Young people are responsible for a lot of these new terms, so fittingly, newly coinages are all over MTV and Tiger Beat. But they’re also making their way into local papers, the New York Times, and even the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Here are just a few of my recent favorites:

treecovery (tree + recovery, as in the Northside Treecovery Program 11541to replace trees in neighborhoods damaged by a tornado)

guyliner (guy + eyeliner, as in Adam Lambert and Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack Sparrow)

perma-dude (see http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/10/fashion/skateboarding-past-a-midlife-crisis.html)

adorbs (clipped from adorable)

 

Have you heard or read new words recently that made you smile, or that seemed particularly clever? Or have you used one and gotten an interesting reaction? Let us know!

2 comments:

  1. Are you a Joss Whedon fan too?

    Here's an excerpt taken from the Wikipedia entry on Joss Whedon:

    Dialogue

    The dialogue in Joss Whedon's shows and movies usually involves pop culture references both notable and obscure, and the turning of nouns into adjectives by adding a "y" at the end of the word ("listy"). According to one of the Buffy writers, "It's just the way that Joss actually talks."[62]

    Whedon also heavily favors the suffix -age (Linkage, Lurkage, Poofage, Postage, Scrollage, Slayage).[63] Also, phrasal verbs usually ending with "out" are changed into direct verbs, for example "freak" rather than "freak out", "bail" rather than "bail out", or "hang" rather than "hang out". Whedon also tends to change adjectives into nouns such as "happy", "shiny" (positive thing), "bad" (mistake), "funny" (joke) – for example, a character may say "I made a funny" instead of "I made a joke".[citation needed] So many of Whedon's altered usages, new words, and heavily popularized words have entered the common usage that PBS in their article series "Do You Speak American" included an entire section on "Slayer Slang".[64]

    In an issue of Buffy Season Eight where Buffy travels to the future, Whedon writes Buffy's reaction to the future dialect of Manhattan; this allows Whedon to comment on Buffy's distinctive style of dialogue. "Buffy blames herself for what's happened to the English language, and there's a lot of hubris in that joke. I like to think that adding Y's to words that don't usually have Y's is going to destroy the whole fabric of our society." [65]

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  2. That last line is fantastic! I'm a Joss Whedon fan in that I enjoy and admire the use of language in his work, though I didn't realize there was so much intentional inventiveness in Buffy. Makes sense, though.
    I particularly enjoy the times someone here throws out a made-up word (often a noun+y)--or a Buffy reference--in a meeting full of editors. Sometimes it's just the most efficient way to say something.
    Thanks!

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