What are the new buzzwords and which ones are trending?
Do you think that if you invent a new word on a boozy night out and overshare it on social media the next morning, it might stick?
Will you get royalties and live like a King?
These days you really do need to be social media aware to understand what they mean when they say, sorry, write news and opinions that include the seemingly artificially created words. Let’s take just a couple of simple ones to start with:
Smirting: going outside of a bar or restaurant because you can’t smoke inside to chill out with other smokers and flirt with them as you puff away; it joins smoking to flirting. And you know his/her bad habits before you go further.
Gaydar: having a gay detecting ability, as in gay + radar. Did you really know that George Michael didn’t like girls as much as you do? Oh, you felt it in your gut? You have a gaydar.
The obvious attraction of new words is that they are, well, new.
Not all of them are as modern as you think.
Some have been with us for over half a century: liger (lion + tiger), napalm (naphthenic + palmitic), paratrooper (parachute + trooper), ginormous (gigantic + enormous), transistor (transfer + resistor) and telethon (television + marathon).
Motel (motor + hotel) was coined in 1925, sexpert in 1924. Smog (smoke + fog) dates back from 1905, brunch (the English way, not in USA) in 1896, prissy (prim + sissy) in 1895, electrocute (electricity + execute) in 1889.
Oxbridge (Oxford + Cambridge) was invented by William Makepeace Thackeray in 1849 as a fictional university.
The trouble is that too many new gems kill the value of the single diamond.
When your English is really, really good, you have a RAM usage of a vocabulary of about 75,000 words. There are over a million to choose from at present, which ones do you discard to let new inhabitants in?
So what determines which new words will endure? Linguists have come up with the following criteria:
1 Completion probability/understandability
Can the average speaker quickly recognise the origins of both parts of the word and thus intuitively guess its meaning? If the source words are recognisable (mockney as in mock cockney), the word is in with a chance. If it’s just two words arbitrarily chopped and superglued together (chugger as in charity mugger) the word might carry on.
Words that associate two different words from the same general domain are easier to remember; frenemy or staycation make sense and the horrible jeggings is making waves (or wobbles).
Blended words rarely take off if their meanings are too narrow; hence the demise of pedoeuvre, mankle, emberrorist, foodoir and zootique. Brexit is good but Bremain will not stay after the EU referendum.
Does the hybrid word feel good and sound English? Does it flow or do you have to twist your mouth trying to use it? Words that share a syllable or at least a sound offer help. Take glitterati, gaydar and hacktivism; these newbies have a shot at immortality, whereas legacyquel, condesplaining, privelobliviousness and gymtimidation, will get buried sharpish.
5 Fun factor
Linguists agree that humorous words and words connected with youth and pop culture tended to do well; sharknado and sheeple are fun.
Is the result too close in sound or spelling to an existing word? Staycation is close to vacation, chopping the va off and adding stay makes it unique.
If there’s already a perfectly good word to describe what you’re trying to say, it’s puny. Do you really need to use chillax to describe that you’re enjoying a spot of downtime?
Or do we just move them from London to Paris for an indefinite staycation?