The actor George Takei, hailed as a social media superstar, recently invited his fans to invent new words and submit them to him with their proposed definitions. Here at Oxford Dictionaries we’re always monitoring new words and meanings for inclusion in our dictionaries: once a word or phrase has gained enough traction, and we’ve recorded enough evidence of its usage, we use our language research to create accurate definitions.
In today’s social, virtual, viral world we’ve seen how quickly new coinages and usages can spread, so we’re watching with interest as Takei’s fans submit new words in their thousands.
How are new words formed?
Common ways include:
- Invented new words are often blends or extensions of existing words, combining two concepts into one portmanteau word: for example brother and romance blended to form bromance (a close but non-sexual relationship between two men).
- Prefixes and suffixes can be used to create new words in a different word class: for example -ous or -able can be used to change a verb to an adjective (watch into watchable); -ize to turn a noun into a verb (idol into idolize); or –ism and -ery to turn almost anything into a handy noun.
- Endings like -tastic can be added to create a word denoting ‘someone or something regarded as an extremely good example of their particular type’.
- Words can be borrowed from other languages: English speakers borrow extensively, and sometimes create interesting hybrids, for example adding the Spanish ending –ista to form new words like recessionista, or adding -anza on the model of extravaganza.
Takei’s fans are using many of these techniques
Here are some of the interesting coinages we’ve seen:
- Shenaniganza: An extravaganza of shenanigans (from Anne-Marie Whisman Pine)
- Boobage (alternative to cleavage): “I like this dress, but it shows too much boobage” (from Christine Lathem)
- Cellodrama: One side of a drama played out in front of a group of people overhearing someone else’s phone call, (on a bus, train, etc), ie: “… aww, c’mon Rosie, I didn’t … she was kissing ME … no I wasn’t … no don’t be like that, we can work this out babe … Rosie? … No don’t say that baby … Rosie, ROSIE!?!” etc (from Laen Deakin)
- Hangry: hungry + angry (from Wendy Flick)
- Blunderstand: when one stumbles or blunders into understanding something… (from Kenneth Baker)
- Sarchasm: The gap of understanding between a sarcastic person and the target who doesn’t get it (from Øystein Bech Gadmar)
Will these words end up in the Oxford English Dictionary?
This shows once more that the English language is endlessly inventive – and so are its speakers. But are many of these words likely to find their way into the Oxford English Dictionary, or into our current English dictionaries? “Every new word has to start somewhere”, says Head of Dictionary Projects Angus Stevenson, “and several of the words added to our dictionaries in recent years can be traced back to one person or source, such as muggle and poptastic. So if hangry takes off and we start to see it appearing in lots of print and online sources we’ll certainly consider it.”
Read our Words on the Radar column to see the new words we’re monitoring for inclusion.
Find out about the new words that made their way into Oxford Dictionaries Online, our free current English dictionary site, in the August 2012 update.