A Neologism is a newly-coined word or phrase. In the popular television series ‘The Big Bang Theory’ Sheldon Cooper often exclaims ‘Bazinga!’ when he’s played a joke or got one over on someone. Theories abound as to where the word comes from, including Star Trek fans claiming that it’s a Klingon insult (no really they do, it’s on The Internet and everything) but the general consensus is that it’s derived from ‘zing’ which means to criticise or ridicule someone. We thought it would interesting to look at some neologisms here, not least because we’ve been known to put them on t-shirts from time to time…
A Portmanteau combines two or more words to give a new word – for example smoke and fog combine to give smog, breakfast and lunch give us brunch, and Oxbridge is commonly used to describe Britain’s oldest universities Oxford and Cambridge. The term was first used way back in 1871 by Lewis Carroll in the book ‘Through The Looking Glass’ where Humpty Dumpty explains to Alice how the word ‘slithy’ comes from lithe and slimy and how flimsy and miserable become ‘mimsy’ in the ‘Jabberwocky’ poem :-
‘You see it’s like a portmanteau – there are two meanings packed up into one word.’
There have since been any number of example of this. Putting gigantic and enormous together as ginormous is thought to have first occurred in 1940s military slang, while crossing a male lion and a female tiger gives the natural world a liger. Interestingly it’s not been decided whether a male tiger and a female lion give us a tigon or a tiglon. And in 1973 Pete Townshend combined quad with schizophrenia for the title of The Who’s double album ‘Quadrophenia’ which tells the story of Jimmy, a mod who suffers from a four-way personality split. But shouldn’t it have actually been called ‘Quadrophrenia’?
In more recent times wiki – an information website that can be modified by it’s users, the word comes from the Hawaiian for quick – and encyclopaedia have come together in 2001 to name the online information resource Wikipedia, while chillax – a combination of chill and relax – appeared in the 2003 film ‘Final Destination 2’. The idea has also given us ‘Name Meshing’, where Bill and Hillary Clinton become ‘Billary’ and ‘Brangelina’ is used to describe Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
Going back to television the comedian Rich Hall presented a regular item on Sniglets – words that don’t appear in a dictionary but should – in the 1983 U.S. T.V. show ‘Not Necessarily The News’. The idea was originally created for the British satirical show ‘Not The Nine O’Clock News’; when the show was sold to America they picked up on it and several books of sniglets have since been published. Examples include The Hozone – the place where one sock disappears to when you do your laundry – ‘radiodling’ for singing along with your car radio and ‘flinky’ which is the mark that you make when your flicking through a book with a pen in your hand. Oh and a bruise on a banana is called a Monkey Thump. Well, if it isn’t then it should be!
The Simpsons has become infamous for made up words, the most well-known of which is probably ‘D’oh!’. It’s usually represented in the show’s script as ‘(annoyed grunt)’ and it even appeared in The Oxford English Dictionary in 2001. The voice of Homer Simpson is Dan Castellaneta who originally performed it in the style of James Finlayson, the Scottish actor who appeared in many Laurel And Hardy films and who would often use a more drawn out ‘Dooooh!’ (well, something like that anyway, watch the films and you’ll know what we mean. It’s not easy writing this stuff sometimes you know!) when something went wrong. The show’s creator Matt Groening felt that it would work better timing-wise if it was faster so it was shortened accordingly. Other words that didn’t exist before the show came into being include cromulent (valid or acceptable), embiggen (to make better) and malparkage (parking a car illegally). A Bagzooka is a bag-firing bazooka, ‘chestal’ refers to your chest (in the same way that ‘scalpal’ refers to your scalp) and ‘pricetaggery’ is the act of ruining the fun of buying something by pointing out how expensive the item is. And then there’s the concept of retirony – a portmanteau of retire and irony, it’s a running gag in several shows where a person or object is injured or damaged just before retirement is due. A perfectly cromulent idea don’t you think?
Away from Homer’s odyssey former Governor of Alaska Sarah Palin used the word ‘refudiate’ and then attempted to explain it by saying ‘I pressed an ‘f’ instead of a ‘p’ and everybody freaked out’. It is thought she was thinking of using the word ‘repudiate’, but no one (including her) seems too sure… she then went on to somewhat bizarrely compare herself to Shakespeare – but more about him in a moment. Staying with American politics former President George W. Bush famously used the line ‘they misunderestimated me’ during a speech in Bentonville, Arkansas in November 2000; he also memorably referred to ‘The Internets’ on several occasions giving rise to a term that’s often used to show a lack of understanding of all things cyberspace. (Incidentally ‘cyberspace’ first appeared in the 1982 short story ‘Burning Chrome’ by William Gibson, although it didn’t define the World Wide Web until two years later in the follow-up novel ‘Neuromancer’.) The term ‘Bushism’ – itself a neologism – has been coined to describe Dubya’s unconventional approach to language, and the poem ‘Make The Pie Higher’ by Richard Thompson consists entirely of Bushisms and less-than-coherent quotes. It’s very funny, and well worth searching The Internets for.
At the other end of the evolutionary scale William Shakespeare is reckoned to have contibuted around 1,700 new words to the English language. He changed nouns into verbs, verbs into adjectives, put together previously unconnected words, added prefixes and suffixes, and came up with some brand new ones. From everyday words like secure, label and excitement, less obvious ones like frugal, besmirch and obsequiously through to phrases like ‘wild goose chase’ and ‘fight fire with fire’, the Bard Of Avon had a hand in them all. Well, that’s if he actually wrote any of it himself of course… staying with the written word ‘robot’ first appeared in the 1920 play ‘Rossum’s Universal Robots’ by Czech writer Karel Capek, George Orwell coined the term Big Brother to represent a totalitarian regime in ‘1984’ while in his 1962 novel ‘A Clockwork Orange’ Anthony Burgess invented Nadsat which is spoken by the younger characters in the story. Little if any of this has made it into everyday language, although given some of the things that happen in the book this may not be a bad thing.
Meanwhile here we are, on a blog. On 17th December 1997 the American writer Jorn Barger coined the term ‘web log’ to describe the idea of ‘logging the web’ as he surfed The Internet. This was jokingly broken into ‘we blog’ before the verb ‘to blog’ (defined as ‘to edit one’s weblog or to post to one’s weblog’) and the term ‘blogger’ was coined. While we’re on the subject of words that we use all the time these days, it seems incredible that none of us had heard the word Facebook before February 2004 – we can only wonder if it would have become so popular if it had kept it’s original name of Facemash? And an early name for the search engine Google was BackRub – could you imagine yourself saying something like, ‘I’m not sure what that means, hang on and I’ll BackRub it’? No, neither can we.
In the meantime ‘bazinga’ has now gained scientific respectability after a species of Brazilian Orchid Bee was named Euglossa Bazinga in December 2012. As André Nemésio of the Federal University of Uberlândia said at the time, ‘Sheldon Cooper’s favourite comic word ‘Bazinga’, used by him when tricking somebody, was here chosen to represent the character. Euglossa Bazinga has tricked us for some time due to its similarity to Euglossa Ignita’. Ironically, the character of Sheldon is allergic to bees. You couldn’t make that up could you? But you could put the chemical symbols for Barium, Zinc and Gallium on the front of a very cool retro-styled t-shirt – so we have. Bazinga indeed…