A neologism (from Greek neo = "new" + logos = "word") is a word that, although devised relatively recently in a specific time period, has been accepted into a mainstream language. By definition, neologisms are "new", and as such are often directly attributable to a specific individual, publication, period, or event. The term "neologism" was coined in 1803.

Other uses

In psychiatry, the term, neologism, is used to describe the use of words that only have meaning to the person who uses them, independent of their common meaning. This is considered normal in children, but a symptom of thought disorder (indicative of a psychotic mental illness, such as schizophrenia) in adults.

People with autism also may create neologisms.

Use of neologisms may also be related to aphasia acquired after brain damage resulting from a stroke or head injury.

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 that are changing rapidly and also in situations where there is easy and fast propagation of information. The new terms are often created by combining existing words (see compound noun and adjective) or by giving words new and unique suffixes or prefixes. Portmanteaux are combined words that begin to be used commonly. Neologisms also can 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, and word of mouth (including academic discourse in many fields, renowned for the use of distincitve jargon, with recent coinages such as Fordism, Taylorism, Disneyfication and McDonaldization–now in everyday use). (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, ceasing to be such through time and acceptance.

Neologisms often become accepted parts of the language. Other times, however, they disappear from common use just as readily as they appear. 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. 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.)

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 cease being 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 may be described as,

  • Unstable - extremely new, being proposed, or being used only by a small subculture (also known as protologisms)
  • Diffused - having reached a significant frequency of use, but not yet having gained widespread acceptance
  • Stable - having gained recognizable, being en vogue, and perhaps, gaining lasting acceptance
  • Dated - the point where the word has ceased being novel, entered formal linguistic acceptance and, even may have passed into becoming a cliché
  • Passé - when a neologism becomes so culturally dated that the use of it is avoided because its use is seen as a stigma, a sign of being out of step with the norms of a changed cultural tradition, perhaps, with the neologism dropping from the lexicon altogether

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 include,

Science fiction

Concepts created to describe new, futuristic ideas include,

Literature more generally

See "Neologisms in literature" topic below.


See also Political neologisms

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


Words created to describe new kinds of objects and concepts originating in various types of design include,

Popular culture

Words or phrases evolved from mass media content or used to describe popular cultural phenomena (these may be considered a variety of slang as well as neologisms) include,

Commerce and advertising

Genericised trademarks include,


Words or phrases created to describe new language constructs include,


Miscellaneous sources include,

  • nonce words—are 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 a 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 "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.

What Neologism isn't

The problem with neologism is the risk losing comprehension - becoming like Humpty Dumpty ("When I use a word,it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less"). However it should be equally clear that neologism cannot be the same as using old established words to describe new things - or else "suicide bomber", "global warming" and "commuter flight" and ultimately any writing on a recent subject will be effectively disallowed.


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

See also



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

External links

General information


* Neologisms:unstable
* Neologisms:diffused
* Neologisms:stable
* protologism


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