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August 17, 2012

Where Do New Words Come From?

My students ask me where words come from. I get this question every week or so. It is...

...an interesting question.

Which is another way of saying that there is not a simple answer. Or perhaps even not an answer at all.

But there are several possible answers.

The main source of new words is just mere use. A word is used by a few people, and then a few more and then it makes its way into print or public media and, I think, perhaps its meaning is nearly universal (in other words, people don't have to ask what it means when they hear it) and then it is taken in and 'authorized' by an official organization or website.

Here are some examples of new words for 2012; Man cave, F-bomb, sexting, aha moment, underwater (a term which refers to the value of a home being worth less than is owed on it) and bucket list are just a few of the new words being officially recognized this year.

Can you remember the first time you heard each of these words? Bucket list became popular thanks to the movie a year or so ago. I've used Man cave for several years now. Sexting has become a word once smart phones became popular among young adults - especially high school students.

F-bomb is yet another euphemism for the infamous F-word.

Here's a link to an article with some background on new words from the Merriam-Webster dictionaryhttp://in.reuters.com/article/2012/08/14/usa-dictionary-new-words-idINL2E8JE5DJ20120814.

I hear (and make up) new words all the time. It is always interesting to see a word move from individual use to public and official recognition.

As always, send us any new words or phrases that baffle you and be sure to let us know what it is about English and language learning that you find confounding, infuriating or endlessly intriguing.

Listen, read and speak. Make your new language your own.

My best to you as you make your way through this intriguing , constantly shifting linguistic landscape.


Also, Morf just might be available to visit your school or agency this coming September. You can contact him at mmorf@mail.com.

Posted by mmorf at August 17, 2012 11:45 PM


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