Neologisms in English

Posted on April 12, 2012

In my previous job teaching English at a language school in France, starved of material or inspiration I would sometimes look to the old textbooks in the staff room. Occasionally there would be English books more than fifteen years old. It made me somewhat nostalgic that the symbol for audio was a cassette tape but on closer inspection the grammar and vocabulary was  subtly different too.

My parents’ generation use the structure “shall” and “shan’t” e.g. “I shall do it tomorrow” or “I shan’t listen to him”. While I might use the positive “shall” in this way it would probably be ironic, and my use of “shall” is almost entirely limited to making suggestions; “shall we go to the park?” Words like “chap” and “cheerio” are rarely heard from my generation, and you won’t hear many retired people use the word “cool”.

In English speaking cultures new words are assimilated relatively easily. Some are anagrams like LOL (laugh out loud), Facebook alone has created the verb “to friend” and the opposite is the compound to “unfriend”. Even the noun Facebook can be used as a verb, meaning to send someone a message via Facebook.

A friend facebooked me recently and said that she had an “earworm”. I had to look this up on Urban Dictionary to discover that it meant a piece of music that you can’t get out of your mind. It was the second time I had had to do this for a word she has used, the first was the word “nom” (yum) which I have since heard in such guises as “nommy”. Incidentally, I am currently trying to coin the compound “nomtastic” although no-one has taken it up to my knowledge. Until it catches on, I will have to concede that my friend deserves the title of “Neoloqueen”.

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