How new words are born

New words are being created at an astonishing rate at the moment – or so it seems from here.

In the last week, I’ve spotted three interesting ones in my inbox:

  • Andrew Cain introduced Fixititis. He says it happens when patients expect the doctor to fix everything for them – and the caring doctor feels overly responsible for things they can’t control
  • Jamie Smart introduced another “condition” – Tacticitis. It’s a craving for magical, quick-fix remedies that will solve all our problems & give us what we want NOW!
  • And on the plus side, Joe Vitale offers Benestrophe: many good things happening at once; the opposite of a catastrophe.

In each of these new words, the author has made effective use of metaphor: they are comparing one kind of thing to another kind of thing. So in the first two examples, the use of “…itis” compares a common psychological state to a medical condition, and therefore pathologises it.

Another feature of all three new words is that they combine ideas in new ways, in order to create new meanings. Had you previously thought of the possibility that good things might come in waves, even tsunamis?

These are great examples of a process described in Steven Pinker’s brilliant book, The Stuff of Thought. For Pinker, this process is “the stuff of thought” – the profound way in which we use metaphor, and the way we can combine ideas in new ways.

So will these new words catch on? Only if people hear them, and use them. And they’ll only use them if they are really useful – if they express an idea significantly more clearly or more efficiently than another word or words can, and it’s an idea that people really want and need to talk about.

An example of such a word is “teenager”. Recently Telegraph editor Simon Heffer reminded an audience that “teenager” had been banned from the paper in the 1950s as an ugly Americanism. But it was useful – there was no word in British English which expressed the concept, and there were lots of occasions on which the concept needed to be expressed. So it beat the ban, and caught on very fast.

Will you find these three new words useful? “Fixititis” has already made it into my inner dictionary – not least because Clean Language is an excellent treatment for it!

1 Comment

Leave A Response

* Denotes Required Field