NEOLOGISM [nee-OL-uh-jiz-uhm]: new words


Every time you turn around, there is a new word popping up.  Given the massive number of new media possibilities, there are tons of people out there just waiting to get their 15 minutes of fame in one way or another.  Inventing a new word is one of them.  These new words are called neologisms.

Obviously the word is an invention based upon the Latin words for new (neo) and word (logo.)  Just glue them together and you have a word that means “new word.”

The one that caught my attention this week was incentivize.   It is created by using the two words, incentive and devise.  When someone takes the initiative to develop something new, they are said to incentivize.   It has become a word commonly used, especially in the business world.  When a company wants to inspire employees to be productive and create new products or new means of marketing products, they are encouraged to incentivize.  

Such neologisms are just popping up all over the place.   Bryan Garner, one of my gurus in language issues, offers the following cautionary commentary on neologisms:

Neologisms…or invented words, are to be used carefully and self-consciously.  Usually they demand an explanation or justification, since the English language is already well stocked.  New words must fill demonstrable voids to survive, and each year a few good ones get added to the language.”  (Garner, p. 565)

Continuing in his explanation of the word neologism, Garner points out that it usually takes a long time for a new word to make its way into regular use in the English language.  He says,

…Yet the explosion of electronic media in the second half of the 20th century has compressed time, and the standards for  “maturity” are dropping.”

There is something of a game phenomenon in society that encourages (incentivizes?) the creation of new words.  Part of it is the excitement of being a part of the process of word invention.   But there is also a sense of scoffing at, or rejecting traditional words and concepts.   Things not only seem to be getting “new” very fast.  Things are also becoming “old” very fast as well.

I have to admit that when I have tried (several times) to return to classic novels to remind myself of them and the quality of the writing that has made them endure, I have found myself bored quickly.   The words do not feel lively to me.   They have a beauty, such as that one experiences by looking at ancient architecture or classic art.   But in the sense of inspiring me as a reader and writer, they fall short. (I suspect I have just lost several friends who have read my confession.)  While I am cautious about neologisms, I am much more open to receiving them if they provide me with an energy for the reading.


Image Credit:  PS20: Speech and Language

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