What Is Neologism? | Definition & Examples

A neologism is a newly coined word or expression or a new meaning for an existing word.  Neologisms are created to describe new concepts or phenomena and are often driven by changes in culture, society, and technology. Although they have yet to be established in mainstream language, some neologisms gain traction over time and become more widely accepted.

Neologism examples
Many neologisms describe behaviors related to technology. For example, we google things, we uber places, and we get upset when someone is ghosting us.

What is neologism?

A neologism is a recently minted word or phrase that is gradually gaining popular acceptance. Sometimes neologisms are existing words that acquire a new definition. An example of this is “woke.” The term came into use to describe an idea that was considered politically progressive and over time became a pejorative for left-leaning movements and ideologies.

Neologisms represent the changing nature of language; we need new words to describe new concepts and behaviors. These new words come from several sources, including technological developments, pop culture, and literature.

Neologisms may or may not gain widespread acceptance over time. Once a neologism is fully accepted into everyday usage, it typically gets picked up by dictionaries and is technically no longer a neologism.

What are the different types of neologisms?

There are several ways in which neologisms may emerge. Here are a few common methods:

Acronym Using the first letter of each word in an expression to form a word, such as laser (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation)
Clipping Creating shortened words from longer words, without changing the word’s class or meaning, such as math (mathematics) or fav (favorite)
Derivation Creating a new word by adding a prefix or suffix to an existing one, such as unfriend (from “un+friend”) or podcaster (from “podcast”)
Backformation Removing part of a word to make a new word, changing the word’s class (most often from noun to verb) or meaning. For example, the noun television came into use, and then the verb televise was created from it. Similarly, enthuse (from “enthusiasm”), liaise (from “liaison”), and babysit (from “babysitter”)
Compounding Putting two words together, such as liveblogging (from “live+blog”) or homeschooler (from “home + school”)
Portmanteau (or blend) Two or more words are combined by merging or dropping some letters and sounds, such as frappuccino (from “frappe+cappuccino”) or brunch (from “breakfast + lunch”)
Borrowings or loanwords Words that existed in another language for a long time but were imported into English more recently, such as schadenfreude, tsunami, and algebra
Shifted meaning An existing word takes on a new meaning. For example, a mouse denotes a mammal but also a computer device. Similarly, viral originally referred to something related to a virus and tweet originally referred to bird sounds

Neologism examples

During the COVID-19 pandemic, neologisms emerged to help people articulate their experiences and worries about the global health crisis while also poking fun at the situation.

Neologism examples
Many of the neologisms related to COVID-19 described the new forms of living, working, and socializing.

  • Corona cuts: bad haircuts given at home
  • Covideo party: an online television or movie-watching party that allowed people to watch something together while at home alone
  • Covidiot: a pejorative term for someone who fails to observe regulations or guidelines designed to prevent the spread of disease
  • WFH: acronym for working from home
  • Zoom fatigue: tiredness resulting from excessive use of video conferencing platforms for remote work, learning, and socializing
  • Quarantini: any homemade cocktail made while in quarantine or self-isolation

Many words that we use today started as neologisms and originated in literature. Writers often invent words when they cannot find a suitable existing one.

Neologism examples in literature
Cyberspace: William Gibson coined this word first in a sci-fi short story referring to the interconnected virtual environment of computers and the internet. His novel Neuromancer, published a few years later, popularized the term.

Banana Republic: American writer O. Henry coined the term to describe the fictional Republic of Anchuria in the book Cabbages and Kings. It later became synonymous with a politically unstable country that has an economy dominated by foreign interest, usually one that is dependent on a single export, like bananas.

Big Brother: Coined by George Orwell in his novel 1984, “Big Brother” refers to a totalitarian leader or government that has complete power and tries to control people’s behavior and thoughts, limiting their freedom.

Bedazzled: Shakespeare uses the word “bedazzled” to describe someone who is overwhelmed by something sparkly or shiny in his play The Taming of the Shrew.

Neologisms can come from several sources, including media and pop culture.

Examples of neologisms
Digital detox A period of time during which you intentionally reduce the amount of time you spend online on your devices or avoid using them completely
Crowdsourcing The practice of obtaining information, services, or ideas from a large number of people, typically online
FOMO An abbreviation of “fear of missing out”; the fear of not being included in something (such as a fun event or activity) that others are experiencing, especially caused by things you see on social media
Hangry Feeling irritable or angry because you are hungry
Selfie A photograph that you take of yourself, usually with a smartphone
Meme A piece of content like a video or image, typically humorous, that is spread widely online
Cancel culture A way of behaving in a society or as a group in which you reject, boycott, or end supporting someone because they have said or done something that offends you
Troll Someone who posts inflammatory, irrelevant, or offensive comments online to annoy other users or get attention
Doomscrolling To spend excessive time online scrolling through news or other content that makes one feel sad, anxious, angry, etc.
Woke Anything deemed too liberal or progressive (pejorative)
App An abbreviation of “application” (i.e., software)
Bromance A blend of “brother” and “romance”; a close, friendly, nonsexual relationship between men
Frenemy A blend of “friend” and “enemy”; a person who pretends to be your friend but harbors feelings of rivalry or resentment
Sick Great, amazing
Staycation A holiday that you take at home or near your home rather than traveling to another place
Emoji A small digital picture or pictorial symbol that represents a thing, feeling, concept, etc., used in online communication

Frequently asked questions about neologism

What is the difference between neologisms and slang?

Neologisms and slang are different in their origin, purpose, and acceptance. 

  • Neologisms are newly created words that express new concepts. These words may become commonly used over time. Neologisms can come from various sources, such as cultural shifts or technological developments.
  • Slang expressions are informal, nonstandard words or phrases used by a specific demographic or social group. These words can be used to express camaraderie or convey an attitude or emotion. For example, “lit” and “bae” are slang expressions. Some slang words, such as “jazz,” may become neologisms and enter mainstream language use.

In short, neologisms are a response to broader societal and cultural changes, while slang arises from informal language use within specific social groups or communities. Neologisms may become more widely accepted over time, whereas slang usually retains its informal and subcultural associations.

What is an example of neologism?

An example of neologism is “deepfake,” a blending of the words “deep learning” and “fake.” It describes a method of manipulating images, audio, or video media with the help of artificial intelligence in such a way that people can hardly perceive their fakeness.

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Kassiani Nikolopoulou, MSc

Kassiani has an academic background in Communication, Bioeconomy and Circular Economy. As a former journalist she enjoys turning complex information into easily accessible articles to help others.