Neologism [nee-ol-uh-jiz-uhm] is an old term (c. 1790) that means a new one.

Properly defined, it refers to “a newly coined word or expression.”

This, of course, could also be interpreted as noodle-brained nonsense by literature’s most literate logophiles.

But should it?

While we English enthusiasts are quick to note made-up words in the course of conversation,

(“I like to squirgle a little aloe vera gel after brushing my teeth.”)

the fact that we can glean their meaning from context suggests that these words carry the same clout as their established, dictionary-approved counterparts.

“Do not be afraid to make up your own words. English teachers, dictionary publishers, and that uptight guy two cubicles over who always complains about the microwave being dirty, they will all tell you that you can’t. They will bring out the dictionary and show you that the word isn’t there—therefore it doesn’t exist. Don’t fall for this,” urges blogger Andrew Kaufman of The Guardian. “It is easy to forget there was a time before dictionaries, when everything was less defined and words had a little more wiggle room. This kept the English language alive. Dictionaries turned the language from a house that we are all free to renovate into a museum we are only allowed to look at. So go ahead, step over that velvet rope, make up your own words. Remember that somebody, a long time ago, made up every single word in this sentence.”

Liberating perspective, isn’t it?

Building momentum within this mounting rhetorical revolution, lexicographer Erin McKean is reshaping how we interact with language. In her talk from TEDYouth, below, McKean emboldens us to embrace our neologistic urges.

McKean recently launched Wordnik, an online dictionary that houses all the traditionally accepted words and definitions, but also asks users to contribute new words as well as new uses for old words. Sounds headiforus. Funner too.


  1. Winnie Nielsen says:

    My Mac computer doesn’t play well with Safari so I could not see the video. However, I love the idea of making up a new word that fits the circumstance. Sometimes you just need to say something differently to get the point across.

  2. Char says:

    Just listen to a preschooler – she always finds the perfect word. We were decorating cookies to take to a great-uncle, and my little baker was squeezing dots for eyes on the jack-0-laterns. She had fives eyes on one of them – so he could se more betterer.

  3. Janice Slater says:

    As a former K-2 teacher, I was introduced to many new and very interesting words that fit ‘at loss for’ the real word situations. Funner was a word I found that I liked to use. Wish had written the made up words down. Unfortunately did not.
    Have a good day all.

  4. My family was very word oriented. My stepfather wrote crossword and double anacrostic puzzles. And we played scrabble and various other word games like” Hinky Pinky ” a great deal. My mother was the pass master of making up words, both to “cheat ” at scrabble and also to make life fun. She gave nicknames and silly new names to various everyday things, especially food items as my stepfather was a chef and our world revolved around food. Case in point : we called porkchops, pokchorps. And tomatoes , mottys, things like that.
    Life was always fun at our dinner table to be sure. If you could make up words in another language you got extra points in our world.

  5. Krista says:

    I agree with this idea full-heartedly! As I was reading this post I was recalling many of my “fake” words that I like to use. I believe it’s healthy for us to make up words. Even though we may never see our words end up in the dictionary, it shows that we can use our imagination and can think beyond the limits society has created.

  6. Pingback: Duodji | Raising Jane Journal

  7. Bobbi Joseph says:

    My 11-yr-old granddaughter made up a word for her great uncle. She called him Gruncle Don.

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