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A Short History of New-Word Study John Algeo A he history of monolingual English lexicography may be said to begin widi dictionaries of new words. The early hard-word books were largely collections of words borrowed from Latin, Greek, French, and odier foreign languages. Many of diose words had been recently borrowed and thus were new words. Some, to be sure, were archaisms, and thus old words; yet from Robert Cawdrey's 1604 Table Alphabeticall, through John Bullokar's 1616 English Expositor, to Henry Cockeram's 1623 The English Dictionarie; or, An Interpreter of Hard English Words and beyond, early collections of hard words were new-word dictionaries in a significant way. However, although effectively works of neology, diey were not intended as such. Indeed, in the 17th century, the very concept of "new word" had not yet been institutionalized . Explicit new-word lexicography came much later. Leon Mead: Word-Coinage (1902) An early 20th-century study of new words was Leon Mead's 1902 Word-Coinage, Being an Inquiry into Recent Neologisms, Also a Brief Study of Literary Style, Slang, and Provincialisms (xi + 281 pages). It is not a dictionary, but a discursive study of the subject, a series of essays on neology and related topics. Its index, although useful , is by no means thorough enough to serve as a list of the words treated in the text. Thus die book is a work of language criticism, not of lexicography. Yet it is noteworthy for its recognition of neology as a field of inquiry. The preface begins with an apology explaining that the book does not have the "meretricious design" of introducing new words into English. The author, who had earlier written a magazine article John Algeo on the subject, found it necessary to explain that he was writing about new words, not making them up and trying to get them adopted. The concept of an interest in neology for its own sake, rather than as a promotion of particular items, was itself new. Mead (1) begins with the statement of a truism, namely, that no dictionary can contain "all" the words of a language: It has been stated that there are three thousand English words not to be found in any dictionary. My own investigations would lead to the inference that there are at least thrice that many. Mead's estimate is undoubtedly very conservative. However, as he also recognizes (53), many of the unrecorded words are ephemera—jokes, stunts, mistakes, proposals—various sorts of creations destined to die at birth, which have a place only in highly specialized dictionaries dedicated to such words (such as Kurian 1993). After an introduction on the fact that the word-stock of English has always changed (chap. 1), Mead considers lexical style in literature, including the use of neologisms (chap. 2), and the circumstances that give rise to new words, attributing cold feet 'reluctance, cowardice' to the Philippines during the then recent Spanish-American War (chap. 3, 62). Chapter 4, on the conscious invention of words, ranges from miriagnostic, the proposal of a Dr. McCosh for the attitude of most people toward religion (the first part from Greek myrias 'numberless' and Latin mira 'wonders') to plassopheny 'the methods of demonstrating fraud in handwriting' (used, according to Mead, in the title of A Manual of the Study of Documents by Dr. Persifor Frazer). Chapters 5 through 9 present neologisms from the works of living or at least recent American authors. Mead seems to have gathered these by writing to authors and asking them what neologisms they have used. The results are predictably of uncertain dependability. Examples are dynamic (syllable or stress) from George Hempl (modeled on German Drucksilbe); thon (a nonsexist third-person singular pronoun ) from C. C. Convers; romeikitis 'the habit of reading newspaper clippings about oneself from Elbert Hubbard (based on the surname of Henry Romeike, founder of a newspaper-clipping business); bicycler from C. E. Pratt, member of the Boston Common Council (as an alternative to bicyclist—the OED's earliest citations for the two forms being respectively 1880 and 1869); and telepathy from F. W. H. Myers, a founder of the Society for Psychical Research. Attitudes toward...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 3-15
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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