A neologism (/nˈɒləɪzəm/; from Greek νέο- néo-, "new" and λόγος lógos, "speech, utterance") is the name for a relatively new or isolated term, word, or phrase that may be in the process of entering common use, but that has not yet been fully accepted into mainstream language.[1] Neologisms are often directly attributable to a specific person, publication, period, or event.

History and meaning

The term neologism is first attested in English in 1772, borrowed from French néologisme (1734).[2] A proponent of a new word or doctrine may be called a neologist. Neologists might study cultural and ethnic vernacular.

The term neologism has a broader meaning that includes not only "an entirely new lexical item" but also an existing word whose meaning has been altered.[3][4][5] Sometimes, the latter process is called semantic shifting,[3] or semantic extension.[6][7] Neologisms are distinct from a person's idiolect, one's unique patterns of vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation.

Neologisms are usually introduced when an individual or individuals find that a specific notion is lacking a term in a language, or when the existing vocabulary is insufficiently detailed.[8] The law, governmental bodies, and technology have a relatively high frequency of acquiring neologisms.[9][10]

Mental health

In psychiatry, the term neologism is used to describe the use of words that have meaning only to the person who uses them, independent of their common meaning.[11] This tendency is considered normal in children, but in adults it can be a symptom of psychopathy[12] or a thought disorder (indicative of a psychotic mental illness, such as schizophrenia).[13] People with autism also may create neologisms.[14]

Use of neologisms may also be related to aphasia acquired after brain damage resulting from a stroke or head injury.[15]


In theology, a neologism is a relatively new doctrine (for example, Transcendentalism). In this sense, a neologist is one who proposes either a new doctrine or a new interpretation of source material such as philosophical or religious texts.[16]


Neologisms may come from a word used in the narrative of a book. Examples are "grok" 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[17] and quark from James Joyce's Finnegans Wake.

The title of a book may become a neologism, for instance, Catch-22 (from the title of Joseph Heller's novel). Alternatively, the author's name may become 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 "Kafkaesque" (from Franz Kafka).

Famous characters are another type of literary neologism, e.g. quixotic (referring to the title character in Don Quixote de la Mancha by Cervantes), scrooge (from the main character in Dickens's A Christmas Carol) and pollyanna (from Eleanor H. Porter's book of the same name).

See also


  1. Anderson, James M. (2006). MalmkjÁr, Kirsten, ed. The Linguistics encyclopedia (Ebook ed.). London: Routledge. p. 601. ISBN 0-203-43286-X.
  2. "Neologism" (draft revision). Oxford English Dictionary. December 2009.
  3. 1 2 Zuckermann, Ghilʻad (2003). Language contact and lexical enrichment in Israeli Hebrew (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 3. ISBN 978-1403917232.
  4. Sally Barr Ebest Writing from A to Z: the easy-to-use reference handbook 1999– p. 449 "A neologism is a newly coined word or phrase or a new usage of an existing word or phrase."
  5. Lynne Bowker, Jennifer Pearson Working With Specialized Language 2002 p. 214 "Neologisms can also be formed in another way, however, by assigning a new meaning to an existing word."
  6. Ole Nedergaard Thomsen Competing models of linguistic change: evolution and beyond 2006 – p. 68 "Extensions, by contrast, are applications of extant means in new usage. Note that since individual speakers differ in their command of their shared tradition of speaking, one person's Extension may be experienced by another as a Neologism"
  7. Michael D. Picone Anglicisms, Neologisms and Dynamic French 1996 – p. 3 "Proceeding now to the task of defining terms, I will begin with the more general term 'neologism'. ...A neologism is any new word, morpheme or locution and any new meaning for a pre-existent word, morpheme or locution that appears in a language. ... Likewise, any semantic extension of a pre-existent word, morpheme or locution.. but is also, by accepted definition, a neologism."
  8. Mesthrie, Rajend (1995). Language and Social History: Studies in South African Sociolinguistics. p. 225.
  9. Solan, Lawrence (2012). The Oxford Handbook of Language and Law. p. 36.
  10. Greiffenstern, Sandra (2010). The Influence of Computers, the Internet and Computer-Mediated Communication on Everyday English. p. 125.
  11. G. E. Berrios (2009) Neologisms. History of Psychiatry 20: 480–496
  12. Robert D. Hare (1999). Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us. Guilford Press. p. 137. ISBN 9781572304512. Retrieved 20 November 2016. Most of us are able to combine ideas so that they are consistent with some underlying theme, but psychopaths seem to have difficulty doing so. This helps to explain the wild inconsistencies and contradictions that frequently characterize their speech. It may also account for their use of neologisms (combining the basic components of words – syllables – in ways that seem logical to them but inappropriate to others).
  13. P. J. McKenna, Schizophrenia and Related Syndromes. Page 363.
  14. Neologisms and idiosyncratic language in autistic speakers. J Autism Dev Disord. 1991 Jun;21(2):109-30.
  15. B Butterworth, Hesitation and the production of verbal paraphasias and neologisms in jargon aphasia. Brain Lang, 1979
  16. Schreiter, Robert J. (15 September 2015). "1". Constructing Local Theologies (30th Anniversary Edition ed.). Orbis Books. ISBN 9781608336111. Retrieved 20 November 2016.
  17. Dunn, Robin. 2003: "The Generative Edge." Foundation 87 (2003): 73–93.

External links

Look up neologism or protologism in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
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