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Neologism: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Joshua Wimmer

Joshua holds a master's degree in Latin and has taught a variety of Classical literature and language courses.

You may have found this lesson by Googling 'neologism', so read on to find out what 'Google' and similar neologisms are and how they find their way into everyday usage.

The Old and the New: Neologism Defined

Ironically, the roots of neologism are rather old. This term used to describe any new word that has come into common usage is actually derived from a combination of two Ancient Greek words: neos ('young, new') and logos ('word'). The term itself became a neologism when English adopted it from French (néologisme) in 1735.

Neologisms can come in a variety of forms. Sometimes, as in the case of the word's own history, a neologism is simply adopted from another language (i.e. algebra from Arabic in the 1660s). In other cases it is a matter of applying a new meaning to a word that already exists, such as using cool to describe something's appeal rather than its temperature. Quite often, neologisms are also derived from words that appear in popular culture; for instance, the verb 'to Google' (meaning 'to look something up') has come about as a result of the search engine's widespread application in information retrieval.

Examples: A Menagerie of Neologisms

18th-century French flyer for the Royal Menagerie
18th-Century French advertisement for the Royal Menagerie

Menagerie - n. Another 18th-century adoption from French, this neologism represented a collection of caged animals--typically exotic ones--such as those in zoos or circuses; however, its metaphorical application to any group of often unruly individuals in the early 1800s gave it an even newer entry in the dictionary.

The mother of six appeared calm and in control even though she had the whole menagerie with her. (Referring to her group of multiple children)

Meme - n. or v. This term was actually first coined in 1976 by Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene. He had meant it to describe the processes by which people share social information, and the meaning hasn't changed much. Today, it usually describes the dissemination of Internet culture through repetitively adapted images, actions, or themes.

Looking at cat memes on the Internet is a fun way to relieve stress. (Don't pretend you don't know what cat memes are)

Even these senators are getting in on the Tebowing meme phenomenon
Colorado senators practice their Tebowing.

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