- Chasing the New
- Dictionaries: Journal of the Dictionary Society of North America
- Dictionary Society of North America
- Number 28, 2007
- p. pp. 157-159
- View Citation
W: Chasing the New Victoria Neufeldt Saskatoon, SK Canada Tord creation is a natural function of language. You could not stop it if you tried. All language academies have learned this, in spite of themselves, and SamuelJohnson recognized it too, as has every lexicographer since. Given that neologism is an integral part of our linguistic competence, one might consider it surprising that there is so much emotion tied to new vocabulary. But the truth is that without the energetic efforts of the dictionary marketers on the one hand (celebrating the new, with a view to selling dictionaries) and the language gurus and style handbooks on the other (usually deploring the decline of standards), most new usage would pass unremarked. These days, however, with the help of the news media, our collective linguistic radar seems to be trained on neologism, even within lexicography. Apart from commercial considerations — new words are the most obvious elements of a new dictionary edition with which to try to catch the buyer's attention and edge out the competition — this fascination with neology on the part of dictionary makers as well as their public perhaps reflects the cultural and social milieu of the 20th and 21st centuries, especially in North America. The new is highly valued, and it seems reasonable to expect that that preoccupation should also manifest itself in the area of language. Like everyone else, I love finding new words and meanings, and thinking and talking about them all — the inspired, the odd, and the lame. Lexicographers have feelings too, even negative ones, however mild (usually) . I recently ran across an annoying example of a new term in a home-design magazine: French oven. Two cooking utensils were shown, which looked virtually alike, from two different manufacturers, Dictionaries:Journal oftheDictionary Sodety ofNorth America 28 (2007), 157-159 158Victoria Neufeldt both with French names; one utensil was identified as a Dutch oven (an established term for 'covered pot that can be used in an oven') and the other — the more expensive one — was termed a French oven. The annoyance stems from the suspicion that this name was made up by the manufacturer for the snob value of the association with French cuisine, and wasjust accepted by the magazine editors. New forms found in published text can result simply from sloppy editing. Recently I encountered what must surely be an example of unthinking word coinage: opacic. The context makes clear that the word simply means 'opaque.' It would seem that the writer was thinking of the noun opadty when he was mentally reaching for an adjective to fit into his sentence. Perhaps he never looked back at what he had written, or if he did, the existing adjective still did not come to mind. And the editor presumably never questioned it. We may never encounter this word again. Then again, it may be recreated independently by many other writers or speakers in the future, because it does not violate the grammatical patterns of English, and so can be said to be a natural and hence valid form. It could in time even replace opaque. Another not uncommon source is allusion to existing expressions or phenomena. The title of the novel The Horse Whisperer, by Nicholas Evans, published in 1995, caught people's imagination and over the years has spawned a number of analogous terms and extended meanings. There are now actual professional dog whisperers, for example , and there is the TV show Ghost Whisperers. I have also seen baby whisperer ('one who supposedly understands the minds of babies') and even trustfund whisperer (a somewhat unclear, not to say opacic, possibly tongue-in-cheek, term for a psychologist who specializes in advising wealthy families on alternatives to having their children inherit a lot of cash). The point is that the reader is expected to understand the allusion , making the connection with the original story (the novel or the movie) of the horse whisperer. A few other examples: we have had lifestykfor some years now, so why not lifestylist ('person who can tell you how to get a cool lifestyle')? And the letter E in dictionaries will get longer and longer as more ewords are created: e-vite...