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 Ling 131: Language & Style

Topic 2 (session A) - Being creative with words and phrases > New words for old

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Session Overview
(Semi) Automatic poetry
Introducing word classes
More on word classes
Manipulating word classes
Changing word class - affixation
Changing word class - functional conversion
New words for old
Word class problems
Word class checklist
Useful Links
Grammar Website

New words for old

So far in this session we have examined how words can be shifted from one word class to another for specific effects. In a way, turning a verb like 'achieve' into a noun, as happens in 'The Windhover' by Gerard Manley Hopkins, creates a new word, the noun 'achieve'. But there are lots of other ways of creating new words, or neologisms, as they are known more technically.

Below is a poem written by someone while doing this course as a student, Eric Dixon. Take each of the highlighted words in turn and work out (a) how the neologism is created and (b) what effect(s) you think Dixon is trying to create with the new word. Then, after you have given your reasons, click on the highlighted word to compare your analysis with ours.

Chukcle Stop !

Ways to make new words

So far in this session we have seen the following ways of making new words:

  1. Deriving new grammatical forms, using derivational affixes, as in Ted Hughes' 'bekittenings';

  2. Functional conversion (as in Hopkins's 'the achieve of, the mastery of the thing');

  3. Running more than one word together to make one (as in 'snugcompactunit');

  4. Using blends of 'illegal' forms (as in 'purnotation');

  5. Making up words that look, or sound like existing words (as in 'thrungefuttock').

But these are only some of the myriad ways in which people invent new words. Here are some more:

  1. Take two existing words and run them together (e.g. 'The forgettle', the name used to refer in an advertising slogan to the Russell Hobbs kettle, the first one which switched itself off - this is a lexical blend of the words 'forget' and 'kettle', producing a word which meant 'the forget kettle' - the kettle you could forget about, as it would not carry on boiling if you didn't switch it off).

  2. Use the name of the person who spotted or invented the object concerned. For example, the hoover, the most common word meaning 'vacuum cleaner', or 'crap', the semi-rude synonym for 'defecate' or 'rubbish', which derives from the name of the man who invented the first flushable toilet, Thomas Crapper.

  3. Use a derivational form with a proper name (e.g. 'Thatcherism', 'Reaganism').

Invent your own words here!

Why not have a go at inventing your own word and giving it a humorous definition?
You can post your examples in the Language and Style chat café.

To get you going, here are a couple borrowed from page 34 of David Crystal's Language Play:

Elaversion: Avoiding eye contact with other people in an elevator or lift.

Hicgap: The time that elapses between your hiccups going away and your noticing that they have.

Brian Walker's suggestions:

Loitery = a loitery of people. A group of people hanging around a National Lottery stand, usually on a double rollover week, deliberating over their chosen numbers, trying to remember the number of the month their cat was born on, obstructing your progress in or out of the shop or down a particular aisle within a shop.

Tapirary - The art of fashioning a living, fast-growing, naturally full, evergreen shrub into the shape of a South American mammal

Chuckle Stop!


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