neologism

Let me say up front that I love neologisms. Sometimes they are so apt and so funny that I laugh no matter how many times I’ve seen them.

A neologism is relatively recent word or phrase that may be in the process of entering common use. The term ‘neologism’ is first attested in English in 1772, borrowed from French ‘néologisme’ (1734). 

Neologisms are usually introduced when the existing vocabulary is insufficient to describe something new. Or something old, for that matter. 

They may come from a word used in a book. Examples are “grok” from Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein, and ”cyberspace” from Neuromancer by William Gibson. Titles may also become neologisms, for instance, catch-22 (from Joseph Heller’s novel Catch-22).

Names of famous characters are another source of literary neologisms, e.g. quixotic (referring to the title character in Don Quixote de La Mancha by Cervantes),  and scrooge (from the main character in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol). Brand names are also a source. The terms “coke” or “cola” may be used in reference to any Coca-Cola like beverage regardless of brand. Kleenex is used in reference to any facial tissue. 

In psychiatry, the term neologism is used as industry jargon to describe the use of words that have meaning only to the person who uses them, independent of their common meaning. That was started by Lewis Carroll, in Through the Looking-glass. “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

Examples of neologisms in popular culture:

Brangelina — used to refer to supercouple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
Muffin top — The roll of fat that appears on top of trousers that feature a low waist.
BFF — Stands for best friends forever.
Chilax — To calm down or relax, it is a slang term used when someone is starting to get uptight about something that is happening.
Staycation — A vacation at home or in the immediate local area.

And now for the good stuff. The Washington Post runs a competition in which its readers are asked to submit alternative meanings to existing words. Here are some examples:

Coffee — the person upon whom one coughs.
Flabbergasted — appalled over how much weight you have gained.
Abdicate — to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.
Esplanade — to attempt an explanation while drunk.
Negligent — a condition in which you absentmindedly answer the door in your nightgown.
Lymph — to walk with a lisp.
Gargoyle — olive-flavored mouthwash.
Flatulance — emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are run over by a steamroller.
Testicle — a humorous question on an exam.
Rectitude — the formal, dignified bearing adopted by proctologists.
Pokemon — a Rastafarian proctologist.
Oyster — a person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddishisms.
Frisbeetarianism — The belief that when you die, your soul flies up onto the roof and gets stuck there.
Circumvent — an opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.

Those should give you a smile or two. I’ll post more on Wednesday.

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