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How New English Words are Created

Updated on February 12, 2013

English in the 21st century

To invent a new word, sometimes you just have to make it up
To invent a new word, sometimes you just have to make it up | Source

inventing new English words


English is always changing

Life is an ever changing atmosphere. The weather shifts between periods of rage and meloncholy, and politics have an equally tempermental personality that makes the present and future an uncertain. People through the ages have adapted to this uncertainty and found ingenious ways to order the world. Our conciousness is at its peak when the world feels predictable. So weather models were created to forcast the patterns of storm and politicians write laws to govern how society functions. They give order to our day to day interactions, produce comfortable feelings and happiness, and sets up the mindset necessary to flourish in a hostile world.The most important factor to our ability to flourish is our language. It is equally chaotic in its behavior, which, rather ironically, helps make our world as ordered as possible through our descriptions of everything around us.

The words that make up a language are in constant flux; the human mind is always active. The words we use to describe our world must change as much as the world itself. The constant flow of information from the environment causes us to adapt our descriptions of it, something our brains are eager to do. words seem to be in a constant state of change.

The different ways we create words

There are many ways words are created. This article will address the following ways:

  1. A change in an existing word
  2. A combination of two words
  3. A borrowed word from another language

These different types of word creation could help you invent your very own English word.

English word origins

English has many different word origins.
English has many different word origins. | Source

The invention of new words

When life presents us with new stimuli, we like to describe them with words . Our complex thoughts and experiences assure that there will never be a shortage of incoming stimuli. Ways to create new words for these ideas also abound.

Change in existing words

One way is to change something about a word that already exists

New meaning

The simplest strategy used to make new words is to add a new meaning to an existing word. Take the following hypothetical conversation:

John: Hey Jane, did you like that new song we just heard on the radio?

Jane: Ya, is was tough.

John: Word.

Developing very recently, english speakers have added new meanings to the words 'tough' and 'word'. 'tough' in this context means 'good', so Jane thought the song sounded good. John's reply, "word", is a sign of his agreement of Jane's opinion.

The importance of adding a new definition to a word is not in the meaning nor the word. They are in a sense arbitrary. What matters is speakers' agreements that a word has a particular meaning. Young English speakers has almost unanimously agrees that these two words can take this meaning. Therefore, the utterances make sense, at least to the younger population.

New pronunciation

Sometimes, instead of adding a new meaning to an existing word, a word can retain their meaning but change their pronunciation. A great example is the great vowel shift in the English language that occurred between roughly 1300 and 1700 in England. The details are dense and require a great deal of linguistic knowledge, but every high school student knows it when they try to understand Shakespeare, Chaucer, or any other medieval writer. It is widely considered the segue to modern English. In much the same way the differences in British English and American English can be explained. The two accents are mutually intelligible. Yet every once in a while a word is pronounced so differently that is sounds like a totally foreign word. In some cases, one could argue that they really are different words. And it also makes one wonder if the two languages while diverge into new languages if given enough time.

Shortening words

Speakers create new meanings and change pronunciations in ways that highlight the vitality of the human mind. Conversely, we also also shorten words in ways that highlight our laziness.

Consider the word probably. English speakers are beginning to show a tendency to pronounce the word more like 'prolly'. This writer does it quite frequently. The reduced number of syllables makes it faster to say. The pronunciation is also changed to make it easier to say.

A word like 'expo' is a simplier example of shortening a word. Short for exposition, the last two syllables were cut off to give the word as it is more commonly used.

combining words

Combining words employs the joining of two meanings.

Combining meaning

For example, the hip-hop song bootylicious, by Destiny's Child, used the titular word (not officially of word until 2006) to describe an attractive, curvaceous woman. The word combines 'booty' and 'delicious'. 'Booty' in reference to a girl's curvaceousness and 'delicious' in reference to the girls overall desirability. Put the two meanings together and the definition for bootylicious is made.

Adding emphasis

The word 'flipping' (usually the four letter f-word is used, but i'd like to keep it clean) can be combined with the word 'absolutely' to make the word absoflippinglutely. Known in the Linguistics community as an infix, the meaning combines the affirmation of 'absolutely' and the emphasis of 'flipping' to mean, "an emphatic yes". The single word conveys all of the meaning that would otherwise require an entire sentence.

Using acronyms

Acronyms are another way of combining a lot of meaning into one word. Everyone knows the word scuba. What is less well-known is that scuba is actually an acronym. Acronyms take the first letters of words to create a new word. Scuba stands for self contained underwater breathing apparatus. It's very descriptive but a mouth full to say. Good thing there are acronyms in the world.

borrowing words from other languages

If all else does work, there are always other languages from which to borrow material.

Loan words

When a word from one language is incorporated into only it is called a loan word. They are diferent in that they don't follow already established language knowledge of English, like root words or suffixes. The meanings are harder to to understand and require more memorization.

Take the word 'Blitz' as an example. 'Blitz' is a shortened form the German word 'blitzkrieg' It was a military term to describe a massive assault, a meaning that the English equivalent largely retained. Because it is a loan word, it is more dificult to understand it and all its variants. Words like 'blitzed' or 'blitzing' will not make sense upon first exposure in the way a word like convincedness would. The meaning of convincedness can be assumed from the ubiquitous word convince. Loan words like 'blitz' would not offer the same ease of understanding and may be harder to incorporate into English.

Try making up your own word next time you're trying to make the next viral phenomenon. You might invent a new word in the process.

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More loan words

Loans word are prevalent in English. German is just one such Language English has loaned words from.
Loans word are prevalent in English. German is just one such Language English has loaned words from. | Source


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    • lisa42 profile image


      5 years ago from Sacramento

      Fascinating!! I particularly enjoyed learning that there's a word to describe words like "absoflippinglutely." I hope to see that one in the dictionary some day. ;-)


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