Well, first you may ask, what is a neologism? It is a new word, or as Merriam Webster’s dictionary puts it, a neologism is . . .
1. a new word, usage, or expression2. a word coined by a psychotic that is meaningless except to the coiner
Well, the first definition is the one that most of us mean when using the word “neologism.” I haven’t heard a soul use the second meaning of the word, believe me.
A neologism is a word that is new to the vocabulary. Of course, all living languages have new words coming into them all the time. and there are lots of reasons that new unforseen words get invented–in the same sense that all societies change in unpredictable directions–and need to have words to use to make reference to those new things or concepts or actions. Also, those processes of language change keep dictionary editors in business, producing new editions of those dictionaries.
Neologisms Made Up for Humorous Purposes
One source of neologisms is surely an unexpected one: people just sitting around attempting to frame a new word for purposes of being funny. Indeed, a humorous look at recent neologisms appears in the Washington Post, in its Style section. Here is a list of some of the winners of humorous neologisms sent in by aspiring contestants, divided into different categories. Among them are some favorites of mine:
Change a Word by One Letter
Guiltar: A musical instrument whose strings are pulled by your mother. (Frank Mullen III, Aledo, Ill., 2003)
Epigramp: A maxim that brands the speaker as an old codger. “If God had wanted women to wear pants . . .” (Brendan Beary, Great Mills, Md., 2007)
Eruditz: A philosophy professor who can’t figure out how to work the copying machine. (John Kupiec, Fairfax, Va., 2007)Words ending in -ion:
Errudition: Comical misuse of big words. “Madam, your dress looks positively superfluous on you tonight,” he said with amazing errudition. (Tom Witte, 2006)
Percycution: Giving your child a name he will hate for the rest of his life. (Marty McCullen, Gettysburg, Pa., 2006)
The word must contain the letter block THES
(in any order):
Transvestheight: The difference between the jockstrap and the bra. (Frank Mullen III, 2004)
The word must contain the letter block ASTR
(in any order):
Oughtacrats: People who have half a mind to solve all the world’s problems with their brilliant ideas, one of these days . . . (Tom Witte, 2007)
AHA HAHA: When you finally get the joke. (Tom Flaherty, Culpeper, Va., 2010)
Move a word’s first letter to the end:
Carecrows: Women who are so devoted to their men that they frighten them away.(Lawrence McGuire, Waldorf, Md., 2011)
Move the last letter to the beginning:
Snipple: Babies agree: the Best Stuff on Earth. (Kyle Bonney, Fairfax, Va., 2011)
Combine the beginning and end of two words
from the day’s paper:
Prob-solutely: A definite maybe. (Kyle Hendrickson, Frederick, Md., 2006)
Ignorial: A monument that nobody visits. (Robert Schechter, Dix Hills, N.Y., 2012)
My top favorites from above are three: epigramp, eruditz and carecrows. From time to time I issue the first, I’ve served on university committees with several of the second, and I have buddies who are still trying to escape from the third.
Now I take offense that Merriam Webster defines the neologism as a word (singular). I think multi-word phrases are neologisms too. For example, most acronyms were, at some time, neologisms. One special subset of acronyms is the initialism, itself usually starting out as a neologism. Most of texting is filled with initialisms, all of them are still neologisms as far as non-textors are concerned: BFF, IMHO, LOL, etc.
So where do neologisms come from?
Well everywhere. Any human enterprise today will, from time to time, have the need to create a novel concept that needs to be named, to be given a “hook” by which to refer to it. A particularly interesting blog piece is 54 Great Examples of Modern-Day Neologisms, which give half a hundred examples across several topical areas, although I just pulled out fro your attention these below, under the category of Popular Culture:
- Tebowing: description of a prayerful victory stance derived from NFL quarterback Tim Tebow.
- Brangelina: used to refer to supercouple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
- Metrosexual: A man who dedicates a great deal of time and money to his appearance.
- Muffin top: This refers to the (often unsightly) roll of fat that appears on top of trousers that feature a low waist.
- Stitch ‘n’ bitch: A gathering of individuals who chat or gossip while knitting or crocheting.
- BFF: Stands for best friends forever. Used to state how close you are to another individual.
- Vagjayjay: Slang term for the vagina that was believed to have been coined by Oprah.
- Chilax: To calm down or relax, it is a slang term used when someone is starting to get uptight about something that is happening.
- Racne: Acne located on a woman’s chest.
- Staycation: A vacation at home or in the immediate local area.
Some Uses of Neologisms
But sharing my amusement at humorous neologisms is not why I wrote this post. I wrote this post to tell you I find neologisms a good way to solve the problem of other forms of creativity, not just creative writing or business applications: in my case, my art work. More specifically: naming works of art.
You see, it is incumbent on the painter to name his work. Composers of music had an easy way out in the Classical period, simply appending a number to the end of the form of composition and sometimes further delimiting a particular work by specifying which instruments it was written for. But even then, some composers were stepping outside those easily applied conventions (or if not the composers, then their later students and musicologists) to call a work by the name of an object or person or place: the Brandenburg concertos, the Jupiter symphony, Leanore overture, etc., instead of Concerto in D major for Horn, Two Oboes and Snare Drum.
For abstract painters, the problem is persistent. The viewer isn’t looking at a landscape or a seascape or a portrait, so you can’t name something “John the Baptist Giving the Finger to the Pharisees.” My paintings are much more likely to just include different shapes that interplay with one another in different ways, with a variety of repeated shapes and sometimes jarring colors next to each other. Sometimes the overall effect is similar to staring at microscopic biologics through a microscope or looking through a kaleidoscope.
I began to discover this pressing problem as I continued to get back into painting, beginning two years ago. The problems of deciding what I wanted to express on canvas, using what pigments and what special surface techniques were large enough to keep me focused on them. But then, after works began to roll of my little assembly line, I was confronted with the problem of how to title them.
The Analogy of Naming and Describing “Ambient Music”
My solution to this problem came to me as an “aha moment” associated with some music that we listen to in bed, from the bedroom radio at 10:00 p.m. on Fridays and repeated on Saturday mornings at 7:00 a.m.: a program called Hearts of Space.
Hearts to Space is the offspring of Stephen Hill, who began the radio program in the early 1970’s from his location in . . . guess where . . . San Francisco:
Hearts of Space is a United States weekly syndicated public radio show featuring music of a contemplative nature drawn largely from the ambient, New Age and electronic genres, while also including classical, world, Celtic, experimental, and other music selections. For many years, the show’s producer and presenter, Stephen Hill, has applied the term “space music” to the music broadcast on the show, irrespective of genre. It is the longest-running radio program of its type in the world.
Hearts of Space was created in 1973 by Stephen Hill, co-produced by Hill and Anna Turner. It was first broadcast as Music from the Hearts of Space, a three-hour long late-night show on KPFA-FM in Berkeley, California. It was hosted by Hill under the on-air pseudonym “Timotheo”, with Turner becoming co-host from 1974 to 1986 as “Annamystic”.
Episodes, or “transmissions,” are thematic, commencing with a voice-over introduction by Hill, followed by almost an hour of uninterrupted segue-mixed music. The show concludes with back-announced track details. Before she left the program in 1986, co-producer Anna Turner jointly announced the show with Hill. As of June 2009, Hearts of Space is presented by Hill and produced by Hill and Associate Producer Steve Davis. A number of other individuals have worked on Hearts of Space, including guest producer Ellen Holmes who created a series of “Adagio Recordings classical spacemusic” shows. –Wikipedia
Let me give you a sense of the new words and phrases that are used by the musicians who compose and play this New Age, “ambient” stuff, and by the DJ, Hill, who characterizes it on his radio program with this lengthy set of descriptive words and phrases:
Morning jewel, infinite essence, states of subtle awareness, portal, dynamic stillness, amorphous strands, harmonic lumina, sound worlds, structures from silence, mystic chords, sacred spaces, tribal-ambient, aboriginal dream time, melted mantra, places in-between, amber-colored emotions, inner landscapes, floating whispers, middle of time, dimensions of the earth experience, nectar of profound innocence, spirit trance, sancum sanctuorum, dream circle, canons in time, Camerata Nova, conjuring the eternal, wind songs, colors in time.
It brings to mind the “buzzword” generators that populate the Web, places where you can go to find an impressive sounding phrase to use in trying to pull the wool over someone’s eyes. They all work by having you select some words at random–an adverb, an adjective or a verb, a noun, and then the system comes up with stuff like . . . competitive dendridic consensus, or external modular sub-system, or holistically enabled market maximizer. In other words: bull shit.
WTF is a Neo-Pagan Gospel Choir?
Curiously, one band I heard mentioned on Hearts of Space was the Bushwick Gospel Singers, also known as the Bushwick Gospel Choir. I found it described elsewhere as a Neo-Pagan Gospel Choir. It isn’t what you are thinking, friends; rather, this is a “neo-pagan” band that is also a “church”–the Church of University Knowing. From their Facebook page comes this explanation of their titles for themselves both in the musical group as well as their “positions” in the Church of Universal Knowing:
The Bushwick Gospel Choir is:
Rev. Pastor Phallasy – Guitar, lead vocals, and holy priestliness
Sister Erin Nora Pellnat of JEAN FIGHT – Vocals
Brother John Kessel – Guitar
Brother Eli Hetko – Banjo
Sister Molly Dechenne – Fiddle
Brother Brandon Wisecarver – Bass and Auto-Harp
Brother Michael Leuis – Slide and lead
Sister Zoë Stampfel – Vocals and percussion
Bastard Brother Thompson B. Crozier – The Choir
Brought to you by the holy folks at the Church of Universal Knowing.
Now my titles for my works aren’t as stretched out and counter intuitive as this collection of goofball names and titles is (and their group name is), but I must admit that viewers of my works are more likely to respond positively to something catchy, like “Cadmium and Crimson Vibrations,” than to “Study 1 in Red and Yellow Lines.”
Frankly, I think my problems are closer to Stephen Hills than to the goofies in the Church of University Knowing: how do I express the colors “red” and “orange” in my works, after I’ve used . . .
- synonyms for the word, pigment color labels
- foreign translations of the word
- contextual settings (Hell, in fire, in Death Valley)