A Primer on Neologisms

Sometimes, the thoughts we have and the ideas we want to share don’t always fit into the cookie cutter molds we carve out for ourselves. Should we just ignore them, because they don’t fit into our preconceived notions? No, to hell with that. At The Irreverencia, we grab all our miscellany and present the full cornucopia as the Musings.

Neologisms! A fancy word for “new words,” I have been abusing this concept and crafting these suckers for as long as I can remember. I usually get weird looks when I say the word neologism, though. Now that you already know what the word means, let’s get into the meat and potatoes of what kinds of brand new words YOU can craft, RIGHT NOW.

The Portmanteau

This is, to my experience, the most common form of neologism. Basic principle: Take two words, and mash ‘em together like LEGOs until the click together in a pronouncable fashion. To start off with vulgarity, in my high school, the word ridiculous was rephrased to ricockulous via a simple portmanteau substitution, which I am CERTAIN you don’t need me to point out. Ginormous, a term to imply something is absurdly huge, is a blend of gigantic and enormous. Some genres of media entertainment are referred to by a portmanteau, such as the common-use sitcom (situational comedy), or the growing-in-popularity romcom (romantic comedy). Feeling hungry for a cheeseburger tonight? Portmanteau. Or, if you are of the vegetarian persuasion, do you plan on dining on some tofurkey? Also a portmanteau. In either case, if you’re feeling bodacious, you could eat with a spork, so long as you make sure to get enough vitamins. All portmanteaux.

Ha, I love using plurals that end in Xs. I checked; it’s totally valid.

The Regional Transplant

True story: I live in an apartment with two rooms, and there is someone else besides me who lives in this same apartment as well. This other person lives in a different room than I do, and pays half of the rent and utilities. What would you call this person, in regards to me? If you are in the USA, I would guess the most likely answer to be roommate. I balk at this classification, for it has previously been established that this other person lives in a DIFFERENT ROOM. Roommate is factually false, and I refuse to use it. Apartmentmate is clunky and a terrible word in general, and just makes it sound as though I’m being overly sensitive to make SURE people know that I’m not living in the same room as someone else. Seems kinda paranoid and pedantic, right? I use the term flatmate. Although the translation is not perfect, as nobody in my living area would call my apartment a flat (despite satisfying all conditions for the term flat to apply), flatmate has the best ratio of usability and accuracy.

While this is in no way a new word et al, flatmate is not used in common speech where I live. Therefore, to many (most) people, it seems like I am either spouting nonsense, or pretending to be randomly British, sans accent. This is a transplant word; not a neologism to language as a whole, but new to the conversational dialect shared between me and, well, whomever I am talking to/at. It totally counts.

The Twisted or Pluralized Truncation

You’re reading this article on the Internet, and therefore I’m going to make some assumptions: 1) you are comfortable with reading a article of, shall we say, DUBIOUS voice and grammar, and 2) you’ve witnessed some BIZARRE mutations of language. Perhaps you’ve seen a picture of a cute kitten, and then perused the comments section to see that people think that it is totes adorbs, and that it hit them right in the feels. If the kitten was doing something particularly funny, someone may have even lol’d. Welcome to Word Hell; trust me, though, you’ll get used to it. I’ll admit; the first time I saw feels used in a sentence, I was straight-up DISDAINFUL. It looked LAZY. What does adorbs even mean? It’s obviously based on adorable, but does it mean multiple adorables, or several aspects of adorableness, or what? It used to be totes inconceives, but now, it only gives me the most minor of annoys.

Here’s the deal: these bizarre changes to words, keeping the core but changing the grammatical context? They’re framing devices.

Feels, in particular, is worth noting because its usage actually appears to be dissimilar to how one would use the word feelings. Whereas feelings are something you experience, feels are emotions inflicted upon you, unbidden and perhaps unexpected. In its possessed noun state (as in right in the feels, my feels, et cetera), it is used to express the more vulnerable parts of your emotional core, that are particularly vulnerable to emotional manipulation. Granted, this allows for the sentence, “All these feels are causing me to feel feelings in my feels,” but this is English we’re talking about. “Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo,” is a grammatically-correct sentence. We don’t have much ground to stand on, to diss feels like that.

Perhaps these examples are running a bit too recent for you, though. It could seem that this form of neologism is simply a product of the Internets (ugh, but acceptable; even proper if not capitalized). Perhaps I should give you a twisted truncation of a more…historic nature. How about Soccer? Yeah, that sport that everyone besides the US calls Football? Origin point of Soccer: Back in the day, in jolly ol’ England, there were these two games called Associated Football and Rugby Football. Associated Football got nicknamed down to Socca (from the abbreviation Assoc., then to Socccer) to distinguish it from the then other form of Football, Rugby (also, rugger. Lots of -er suffixes.) So, yeah. Soccer means Associated Football, which means “Don’t pick up the ball unless you’re the goalie, dumbass, you got us a penalty because this isn’t Rugby Football. Or American Football. We’re playing by Associated rules. Why the hell are there three Footballs, anyway? We need a shorter name.” A clunky translation, but I deem it sufficiently accurate.

The Embellished Extension

When we speak with words, we can convey a LOT of meaning with our inflections and volume. In textual communication, this becomes MUCH more difficult. The volume of a spoken word can be mimicked by capitalizing your words, but the inflections? Almost impossible, within the confines of the words themselves. Word choice and punctuation can only convey so much, and occasionally, that is not NEARLY enough. Let’s say, for example, you want to complain that your Internet connection is slow, but you need EMPHASIS. So, you capitalize it, but it is still insufficient. What do you do? I’ll tell you what you do; you hold your finger on the O key until you have sufficiently conveyed how damn slooooooooow your connection is. This isn’t a typo, spellchecker be damned; this is a mark of PROTEST against the establishment, because the established norms of spelling are INSUFFICIENT to convey oh what no don’t crash you piece of shit don’t you DARE crash I need to save this document befffffffFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU

Ahem. Right. You see my point.

The Logical Extrapolation

The rules of the English language are a complete mess; no doubt. At its core, though, we ostensibly have a root-structure system that allows us to understand words based on their constituent parts. Agriculture, for example, root-literally means “Field Growth/Cultivation.” Antiseptic, despite mixing Greek and Latin roots, translates to “against putrefaction.” Therefore, it TOTALLY AND COMPLETELY makes sense that “Agriseptic” could be used to describe a putrid field, as though domesticated zombies were the only available farmhands after an apocalypse, or as though someone only heard about fertilization one time in passing and decided to cover their crops in literal shit-tons (multiples of 2000 lbs. of excrement in the United States; multiples of 2240 lbs. in the UK and otherwhere) of manure, and making the whole damn place smell rotten. If you ever NEEDED to describe this phenomenon, you can grab some root structures, glom them together as though you were making a portmanteau, and call it good. A diligent wordsmith will attempt to match root structures of a common origin (Latin to Latin, Greek to Greek, et cetera), but if you’ve ever tried doing that, you will immediately remember that English is goddamned MADDENING. We have mixed root structures all over the damn place, and it is an inordinate pain in the ass to match them together flawlessly, because MOST of our language doesn’t even BOTHER.

The primary difference I perceive between this and a portmanteau is that a logical extrapolation uses word ROOTS, whereas a portmanteau need not focus so heavily on the origin of the words. That bootylicious has an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary should make it BLATANTLY OBVIOUS that a portmanteau need not follow root structure.

The Personal Lexicon

The way you personally use your words can also lead to neologisms, or meaning if not of word construction. You probably already have several words that you technically and intentionally misuse on a regular basis, because you and your circle of contacts comprehend the customized context. Whoa, alliteration overload. Here’s a few of my actual, consistently-used personal lexicon entries:
-Curse, as used to describe the trepidation that restricts someone from doing something they’ve never tried. “I didn’t used to gamble, but since THAT curse was broken, I’ve been hitting the casino thrice a week.”
-Halp, as used to demonstrate the intention to assist, while in actuality, doing the complete opposite. “Cat, move. I’m writing.” “I WILL HALP PUSH KEYBOARD BUTTONS” “Cat, dammit! Move! Get your tail out of my face!” “I HALPED”
-Math, as used to describe the logical underpinnings of basically everything or anything, up to and including why people make the decisions they do. “You’re awesome! How did you know I wanted enchiladas tonight?” “I used math.”

The redeeming facet of a Personal Lexicon word is that the definition can usually be inferred through the context, at least given a large enough sample size. A cultural example of the personal lexicon spreading would be Gordon Bennet, and although it IS a phrase rather than a single word, the principle still applies. Read the full story if you like, but the folklore version is SO much better. Basically, this rich American dude went to England, got completely hammered on booze, saw the fireplace in a public room at this fancy party, and decided that it was high time he had himself a righteous pee. In front of a bunch of high-society people. At a party at his fiancee’s father’s house. The expression continues to be in use today, and is used to express surprise and disdain, near as I can tell. Immortality at any cost, amirite?

The Memetic Morph

As mentioned above, culture spreads. Particularly on the Internet. Internets. Goddamnit, whichever. Or, heaven forbid, Interwubs. This is not an unique occurrence. Haz, spelled with a Z. The aforementioned amirite. Wat, and all its iterations. Ermahgerd. Every random typo you’ve seen image macro’d and then subsequently repeated ad nauseum until it infests your subconscious irrevocably changes the way you approach language. Even if you never tread the dark path of, ah, “creative linguistics,” you’ll still be forever scarred with the ability to COMPREHEND such.

Considering that these words function to not only communicate the intended denotative meaning, but also the connotative structure of the memetic connection, yes, kitty. You can haz legitimacy.

The Evasive Expletive

Now, we’re gonna have to get into ideophone territory. Expletives are a completely viable form of speech, and have several purposes…all of which were forbidden for me to use as a child. Thing about kids, though…they’re smart. Or, at the very least, creative at coming up with letter-of-the-law workarounds. Heck, some of these were encouraged for me to use! It was a real pain in the butt to try to remember all these darn substitutions, though. I don’t give a fudge if you had a different experience. This shizz is how I used to roll, and if you wanted to step up, then you were a poophead. You could go flush yourself.

…Did I think this crap would work when I was younger? Dang. Because, reading it again, this is goshdarned RUDE. Holy moly.

The Emoticon

Linguistically speaking, I’m getting into some SERIOUSLY thin ice. Emoticons are symbols, not words, right? Well…

Yes, you’re right. However, what is a word? I checked three different definitions, and I am forced to conclude that if they are NOT words, then they are so similar and ever-present in textual communication as to be indistinguishable. In short, it NO LONGER MATTERS whether emoticons are technically words, as they serve the same purpose in many cases. Consider “=(” as a two-character response to a text message bearing bad news. It fully replaces what would normally be a sentence, and conveys the emotional response. Now, it may be situationally a TERRIBLE CHOICE, but usually not more so than a simple “that sucks” devoid of capitalization or punctuation. That, however, is an ENTIRELY different issue. We don’t want to get too deep into Internet Grammar. That’s a whole different article. Series.

As an aside, the word emoticon itself? Another portmanteau. As another aside, if you DO accept emoticons as words, you’re on a slippery slope towards accepting ASCII art and Animated .GIF files as words. Which I have already done.

Fuck You, That’s Not How Words Work; Your Math Is Bad And I Hate You

Cockney Rhyming Slang, full stop. I hate you. This dialect is complete nonsense, and unless your brain works in a VERY specific way, it will take either complete immersion or countless hours of research to comprehend. Hours of research WASTED, I should add, as NOBODY WILL UNDERSTAND YOU. This shit is basically Two-Step Authentication for language (i.e. A COMPLETE PAIN IN THE ASS), except it doesn’t help you…ANYTHING. AT ALL. For those of you too engrossed to click on that Wikipedia link, Cockney Rhyming Slang uses a phonetics-based word substitution model, with at least some basis in pop-culture. Translated from the technical, that roughly means that several of the words used in Cockney Rhyming Slang are rhymes referencing shit you may never have seen or heard from, and those words have NOTHING TO DO with the intended meaning. To illustrate: the word for “trouble” in Cockney Rhyming Slang is “Barney,” in reference to a character from The Flintstones (a cartoon from the 1960′s, mind) named Barney Rubble. Because “rubble” rhymes with “trouble,” you see. Clear as day, right? :/ OH AND BY THE WAY HOW THE HELL DOES “STARS AND GARTERS” TRANSLATE TO TOMATOES?!?

In conclusion, I have naught but sympathy for those who are in the process of learning English as a second language. My heart goes out to you. Also, stay the hell away from the East End of London; it will only serve to confuse.

Also, incidentally, I REALLY hate the pluralization of Internet into the Internets. I also cannot stand the hybrid portmanteau/pluralization “Interwebs.” Or the double-portmanteau/pluralization/memetic morph “Interwubs.” I have to accept them, though, seeing as I understand what they mean, and therefore are viable tools of communication. That being said, I can haz comments? I’m legit curious as to your favorite and most reviled words.

Also also, I suppose that initialisms and acronyms are also potential new sources for neologisms. But they’re boring, so I only mention them here for completeness’ sake, even if lol is potentially the most important neologism of the last twenty years. Whatev. =P

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