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Friday, March 19, 2010
Welcome to Neologismia and other made-up words

ALL MY COLUMNS ARE WRITTEN IN WORDS.  Mostly the same old words (e.g., the, be, to, of, and, a, in, that, I).  This gets boring for me, so I am sure it gets boring for you, my dedicated readers. (I was thinking here of Sandra and Dan.)  So, this week's edition will move into new linguistic territory.  Welcome to Neologismia!

Let's start with a quiz.  (Please hum any tune from the "Sound of Music" as you answer.).

A neologism is: (C) An amalgam of the Greek words for new and word; (B) The antonym, sort of, of oldlogism; (E) A linguistic indicator of psychosis; (D) Just a made-up word; (A) All of the above.

The answer is: All of the above.

According to Wikipedia, neologism comes from the Greek νέος (neos "new") + λÏŒγος (logos "word" ), and is a newly coined word that has not yet been accepted into mainstream language.  According to the Oxford English Dictionary the word neologism was first used in print in AD 1483, back when neologism was a neologism.

Also, the use of "novel, idiosyncratic words [neologisms] . . . are evidence of psychosis (or possibly, of creativity)," according to Paula T. Trzepacz and Robert W. Baker, authors of "The Psychiatric Mental Status Examination."  [Confer an alternative linguistic indicator of psychosis, echolalia, which is the immediate and involuntary repetition of words or phrases just spoken by others, often characteristic of Miss America contestants.]

Oldlogism is, in fact, a neologism for an old neologism.

So, why should we care about neologisms, besides that they are funny and fun to say? Scholars suggest that neologisms are essential to every human's mental construction of the world.  The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis contends that the varying cultural concepts and categories inherent in different languages constrain the cognitive classification of the experienced world in such a way that speakers of different languages think (and thus behave) differently because of them.  In other words, we cannot think or act outside the confines of our language.

So, whenever we can't explain the world with existing vocabulary, we invent new words.

But, now, let's take another neologism quiz.

Arrange the following neologisms in the order of their first appearance in print from earliest to latest: truthiness, prequel, Internet, retronym, Blogosphere.

This was easy.  They are in order from oldest to newest.

Truthiness was first attested in print in 1824, according to the Oxford English Dictionary  It meant truthful. In its more recent incarnation, truthiness is a "truth" that a person claims to know intuitively "from the gut" without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination -- or facts.  Comedian Stephen Colbert presented this newer definition during his political satire program The Colbert Report in 2005.

Prequel first appeared in print in 1958 in an article by Anthony Boucher in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, and refers to a "sequel" which comes in time before the original. Other sequel variants include midquel, sidequel and threequel.

Internet was first used, as shorthand for internetworking; in 1974, starting out as an adjective rather than the noun it is most frequently today.

Retronym, coined by Frank Mankiewicz in 1980, is a new or augmented name for an object or concept to differentiate the original from a more recent form or version.  An example of a retronym is "acoustic guitar" (coined after electric guitars appeared).

Blogosphere was so named by Brad L. Graham in 1999, as a joke. The Blogosphere is the collective community of all blogs.  A blog (a contraction of "web log") is a type of website, usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary and descriptions of events, with the entries displayed in reverse-chronological order.  In 2007, the blog search engine Technorati was tracking more than 112 million blogs worldwide.

[Note: The primary sources of infauxmation used in this column are the venerable Oxford English Dictionary and Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Please note that the Wikipedia policy on neologisms, as referenced in the article on neologisms, is to avoid neologisms, which ignores that all words were once neologisms.]


Gary D. Gaddy is a neologist of the superial rankitude. ( is his planet in the Blogosphere.)

A version of this column was published in the Chapel Hill Herald on Friday March 19, 2010.

Copyright  2010  Gary D. Gaddy

Authored by Gary G. Gaddy at 8:01 AM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, March 17, 2010 5:30 PM EDT
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