Language Matters July 2009: New English Words

Dear Language Friend,

‘Where Do New Words Come From?’

In our last newsletter we addressed the addition of the English Language’s one millionth word, and consequently its significance. We inquired into what constitutes a word and who is to blame for the rapid expansion of the English Language in recent years, and consequently were left with more questions than answers.  As a result, in this month’s edition, I would like to explore the same subject in a different light.  This month we will explore where it is all these new words are coming from and why some fail while others soar.

Contributed by Kathleen Dodd-Moher. Thanks for reading.

Other Languages

One of the most prominent sources of new words is borrowing from other languages. English has a long history of sponging words off of other languages. Traditionally, Latin has been made use of as well as French and German from which English speakers have frequently absorbed words.

Some examples include:

Faux pas
Je ne sais quoi
Pro Bono
Bona Fide

Acronyms Invented

New words also come from short-forming longer existing names. Words such as RADAR (radio detection and ranging), INTERPOL (International Criminal Police Organization) and DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), once only used as acronyms, have been accepted as genuine words over time.

Combining Existing Words

Combining words already in circulation is another common source for fresh words. New terms are frequently being invented by:

  • Adding a prefix or suffix.
    • E.g. Teleshopping, Chocoholic
  • Creating a rhyming pair.
    • E.g. Boogie Woogie, Snail-Mail
  • Combining two words creatively.
    • E.g. Twist+Fiddle= Twiddle, Smoke+Fog=Smog


An eponym, or a proprietary eponym refers to the name of a person or a brand name that has become so widely accepted it has evolved into a word itself. There are countless examples of this phenomenon, but just to name a few…

People: Braille (Louis Braille) Silhouette (Etienne de Silhouette), Fahrenheit Scale (Gabriel David Fahrenheit).

Products: Band-aid, Kleenex, Jeep, Thermos, Yoyo, Jacuzzi, Frisbee, Jell-O, Walkman, Google.

Trends and Inventions

Last but not least, new words in the English language also come about as a result of current events, trends in technology and hobbies, as well as new professions and products. These types are sometimes referred to as ‘IT’ words, words in popular usage as a result of the times. Some recent ´IT´ words include: Staycation (also an example of word combination), Subprime, Webinar, and Carbon Footprint.

Success versus Failure

All this business of adding words seems excessive. And if anyone and everyone can make up words, how can English possibly retain an accepted vocabulary? Well, not all these new words survive. In fact their success, according to Allan Metcalf, Executive Secretary of the American Dialect Society, depends on five factors. These include “Frequency of use”, “Unobtrusiveness,” “Diversity of users and situations”, “Generation of other forms and meanings,” and “Endurance of the concept.” If a new term scores high on each of these five scales, it is more likely to stick around in this linguistic survival of the fittest.

At LingoStar

As a provider of translation services, we here at LingoStar are ever conscious of and interested in the changing nature of not only English but also of the wealth of languages we are able to provide translations to and from, including Arabic, Chinese, Czech, Dutch, English, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish and Russian. We therefore do our very best to ensure that our translations satisfy modern linguistic standards and that our translators are conscious of the changing nature of language.