/ Technology

Out with the old and in with the neologisms

Blackboard with LOL written on it

We live in a fast-paced world where it has become necessary to invent new words on a regular basis. But at what point in a word’s life-span do you think it earns a place in the Oxford English dictionary?

Neologisms, or newly coined terms, words or phrases, are becoming increasingly common as we’re constantly inventing new technologies. In a recent article, the BBC pointed out just how ubiquitous they’ve become, with words like ‘smartphone’, ‘tweet’ and ‘Facebook’ making it into everyday parlance.

But these new words don’t just stretch to naming new technologies. The way we communicate via new mediums has itself spawned numerous new words, and even whole new ‘languages’.

Itz gud 2 tlk

The mass introduction of mobile phones spawned the well-known language of text-speak – a gr8 way of makin it kwik 2 tlk. It’s a language unique in its inconsistency and creativity. After all, it would be nigh-on impossible to create a dictionary of terms when the very words change between individuals!

The internet brought us an ever-growing set of initialisms, like ‘OMG’ (oh my god), ‘LOL’ (laugh out loud) and ‘FYI’ (for your information). Add emoticons into the mix, and you’ve got a raft of ways to express yourself ever-more efficiently.

But what would you say if I told you that some of these terms had been added to the Oxford English Dictionary? Many of them have, including ‘LOL’ which is defined as an informal abbreviation ‘used chiefly in electronic communication to draw attention to a joke or amusing statement, or to express amusement.’

OMG have you seen the latest neologisms?

Sufficed to say, these additions haven’t all been welcomed by language purists. But personally, I welcome the additions and say, let’s keep it up. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a stickler for grammar (she says hoping she hasn’t made any mistakes…) but I think we should always let language evolve naturally.

Our language is eternally evolving. I’ll admit I’ve groaned at some recent additions to my lexicon. These include: ‘tweeps’ used to describe those who use Twitter; ‘phablet’, which describes a mobile phone and tablet hybrid (yes, even we’re guilty of that one); and even ‘ideation’ – an unholy blending of the words ‘idea’ and ‘creation’.

I couldn’t begin to cover the vast range of neologisms we’ve seen in the last decade, but I’ll keep watching eagerly as they pop up thick and fast. I’m curious to know, at what point in a word’s existence do you think it should be granted a space in the Oxford English Dictionary?


I do not feel strongly about this and recognise that language will evolve. I am more concerned that some people are lazy and omit capitalisation and punctuation.

Text-speak fulfils the role of shorthand, but is understood by far more people. It’s not something I use myself but can usually understand it. Some students are so accustomed to using text-speak that it can appear in exam scripts and reports, which is not appropriate.

I have had to look up a few initialisms (thanks for helping me learn a new word, Jennifer) when reading comments on these pages.

My contribution is W?C to save writing Which? Conversation.

I’m not sure ‘WC’ is quite what we’re going for 😉

I’m flushed with embarrassment. 🙂

Sophie Gilbert says:
3 April 2013

And there was me thinking LOL meant lots of love… ;0)

When you think of it, every word on the planet is a neologism.

Word have appeared in dictionaries and disappeared again or been marked as obsolete/archaic, according to sufficiently common use (define “sufficiently”). Think of OK: how many people did it make groan when it first appeared? Or SNAFU: how many people still use it commonly?

The key is to know when to use them, like grammar, isn’t it? Text your pals using abbreviations and little punctuation by all means, but don’t apply for jobs using the same method.

New meanings amuse me – like “Like” [as in: “I was, like, Oh My God . . . !”] ; I still can’t define it but I know what it means.

FYI, I don’t think it means anything really. It’s superfluous.

BTW, here’s what the urban dictionary says about ‘like’: A meaningless word used in teen-age American speech which may indicate, among other things a gap in thinking or brain functioning; a contemporary equivalent of “uh” or “um” http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=like

To be really annoying you have to begin every sentence with “So” and say ‘can I get’ to ask for something.

“So like can I like get a pint of like bitter please?” without making eye contact with the barman because your’e fiddling with your phone. Then insist on paying by credit card.

Not sure I’d agree with that. Surely it’s more of a short cut to avoid the speaker having to articulate a longer phrase… “it was as if”… “I couldn’t believe it”… “I felt as though”… etc. Also in this context, “I was like…” is more dramatic and immediate to the speaker and listener, who understands what’s implied. I dislike it, but, so long as it’s confined to teen-speak, it’s better than many other four letter words in common use.

I’d have to agree that Patrick is correct about this usage of “like”, but even the urban dictionary definition is rapidly becoming out of date. Unfortunately, this speech pattern is no longer confined to American teenagers or social conversations and it is becoming something of a problem in professional circles.

I work on a daily basis with IT technicians who do not speak English as their first language and who presumably learnt a lot of it by watching American television. Explanations are sometimes peppered with “like” where there can be no possible meaning attached to its usage, other than to give the speaker time to gather their thoughts after every 3-4 words. But not always (and I’m not making this up other than to simplify the technical scenario) … .

“It’s like the computer like froze after the user pressed like enter.”

So I have to ask. Did the computer actually freeze, or just appear “like” it? And did the user in fact press enter or just another key “like” enter?

At least with the old “uh” and “um” you could be certain that the brain is simply not keeping up with the mouth!

Perhaps it would be fun to create some neoneologisms – that is invent some new words.

Unfortunately I cannot think of any good examples, but perhaps the criteria should be that new words are genuinely useful and will not make people cringe when they are used.

It would be good to have a new word to describe people who engage in constructive criticism for public benefit, in the way that most of us try to do on this site.

“Neoneologisms” – I think you just did Wavechange.

I’d like a word to describe Which? Conversation commenters, other than commenters. Convites?

Unfortunately not. I did invent ‘neoneologisms’ this morning but Google reveals that others have done this before me. 🙁

Convites might usefully describe those who post comments though I was thinking of how we could describe the subset that have report problems and suggest solutions.

“… a word to describe Which? Conversation commenters”

How about Cocos? There is a natural derivation of this term you can use for the trolls: Coconuts.

I prefer Coco to Convite, which sounds too much like convict. Maybe CoCo would be better.
I’m not sure about the etymology of Coconuts, and anyway we are not supposed to mention trolls.

Of course CoCos should seek to perfect the art of Convospeak, a way of pointing out that an opinion is total nonsense in a polite and respectful way.

And I suppose if a CoCo isn’t polite and respectful to another then they are having a CoCo Pop?

Sorry, forgot to say that I thought CoCos, CoConuts and Coco Pops were brilliant!

Would someone put me out of my misery and tell me what ‘meh’ means and how it it pronounced if it actually a spoken word.

Just so you know, one does not often wear cardigans. Nor does one mind what others think about said hardly-ever worn cardigan.

One had believed that the Which? team wears ‘onesies’ rather than cardigans these days.

I’m not sure about the etymology or when that word entered our vocabulary.

I am wearing a cardigan today. Jen has not yet passed comment on it, like.

Two seconds after posting I realised that I should have referred to male members of the team, since it’s fine for ladies to wear cardigans. I’m trying to think up a word for a Convite who is desperate to be able to delete some of his own drivel.

Sophie Gilbert says:
5 April 2013


Thanks Sophie. That’s very polite.

My favourite neologism of the moment is the French for electric car: la watture. Not sure how soon that should appear in the OED, if ever.

Très bien, but parlez-vous anglais?

The French for “but” is “mais”. It is pronounced “meh” (see above) and can be used in a similar way.

Partice: “Tu aimes mon cardigan?”
Em (Me): “Mais …”

I was using Franglais, a neologism in its day.

How about copyrighteous to describe those of us who have the very quaint idea that it is not acceptable to publish images and text nicked from other websites, without asking for permission?

And do the copyrighteous get their ideas by listening to iPlawyer?

Very clever. 🙂

As to when a word should first be eligible for appearance in the OED, I can’t do improve on Wiktionary’s general rule. See Attestation:


when i get a text with all these words shortened i either just ignore them or text back i dont understand anything you are trying to say i like to know who started all this

I agree. It is as bad as omitting paragraph breaks, capitals and punctuation from written communication.

Thomas says:
13 June 2013

I really hate how it has become accepted, nay required, to refer to a person as ‘they’ when his or her sex is not specified or not known. There are usually, after all, perfectly good ways in which one can express the singular in these situations. If not, switching to the plural for both subject and verb often works. If necessary, switch back and forth between he and she as the mood takes you.