Saturday, August 31, 2002

Who coins new words?

EVERY year thousands of new words enter the dictionaries. Who coins these words? The language user. Once a new word has been coined, it has to appear extensively in print, on the Internet, on the television and in radio broadcasts. And, how will it appear? By filling a specific need, describing a phenomenon for which no other word exists, by being catchy and by catching the eye of the language user. The editor of a dictionary goes through a wide variety of sources in order to consider the inclusion of new words in the latest edition. Often a new word may have been coined or an old word that had been lying dormant may have been activated. So, if you have created a new word, the best way to win posterity for it is to use it repeatedly, making it so well worn that the editor has to acknowledge its existence!

Here are a few words that got a life through their use by people who are experts in their fields or are public figures. The word pangaea was coined by the German meteorologist Alfred Wegener to refer to the hypothetical super continent that existed in the distant past when all the major landmasses of the earth were joined. It is made up of the Greek words pan, meaning all, and gaia, meaning earth. The French naturalist George Louis Leclerc De Buffon coined Prehensile from the Latin prehensus, meaning to grasp. Prehensile can be used as an adjective meaning greedy, capable of grasping or skilled at keen perception or mental grasp of an idea or concept.

Current trends
August 17, 2002
August 3, 2002
Grandparent languages
July 20, 2002
Thank you computers!
July 6, 2002
Computer-created words
June 22, 2002
Fiddling with words, again!
June 8, 2002
Fiddling with words
May 25, 2002
May 11, 2002
Words in twos
April 27, 2002
April 13, 2002

The mid-thirties were a tough period for Britain. The economy was in one big mess and doom seemed imminent. Winston Churchill coined the term the locust years to refer to this time. He took the reference from the Bible, which says in Joel 2.23, "the years that the locust hath eaten." With the rise in the number of sales outlets in every field of commerce, came a spate of unskilled jobs demanding nothing but the employees’ presence. In the service sector especially, such jobs are in plenty. In order to describe such a low-paying, non-challenging job with few benefits or opportunities, typically in the service sector, Douglas Copeland coined the word McJob for his novel Generation X. The Mc came from the fast-food chain Mc Donald’s and job, as used for work.

The word nous was a word normally used in an informal context, in the sense of common sense or practical sense. It came from Greek in the late seventeenth century where it was used for mind or intellect. Diana Mitchell used it in Financial Gazette of October 12, 2000, and, almost at once, nous became a word highly acceptable in journals and magazines.


Every big campus would have a mori gate, a small opening, just adequate for one person to squeeze through, to be used when the big gates of the campus were closed for the night. Where did mori come from? Does it mean the hole of Hindi? Most old cities have a narrow gate leading to a small mohalla. In the past, this gate was used for making transactions for the sale of horses. In Turkish, mori is a horse. Voila! The coinage becomes clear.