As mentioned in an earlier blog, I’ve been mining the OED to see what new words each year of the twentieth century produced and then choosing a few to tweet.
Every year produced several hundred: rarely fewer than 400 and often more than 500. While reviewing them, I wondered what they would illustrate about how “new words” come into English.
The list below may be revealing, even if not statistically rigorous: the most common recourse is compounding, followed by loanwords, and then by derivation. This probably mirrors the three most common routes for “new” words into English. There follows a list categorizing them according to the process by which they became part of English. This is not, by the way, exhaustive, because it doesn’t include creation by mistake, nonce words, or back formation (e.g. edit from editor).
Then there’s a list year by year. And, finally, I post again the criteria according to which I chose them in the first place.
Type of creation, in descending order of frequency.
Note that certain words could fall into two categories, but for simplicity have been kept in one. For example, psychoanalysis was formed “within English” by compounding of psycho + analysis. The way the OED categorizes words in this way disguises to an extent that the words “within English” were loan elements in the first place.
Combination of words already existing in English, i.e. “compounding”, or phrasal verbs:
As one word: television, hillbilly, airport, telecommunication, psychoanalysis, cornflakes, crossword, lifestyle, bullshit, ponytail, motherfucker, teenage, sleepwalk, photocopy, stereophonic.
Two separate words: number two, teddy bear, boy scout piggy bank, America Firstm, red giant, quantum mechanics, comic strip, pecking order, f*** off.
Two hyphenated words: neo-cortex, post-Impressionism, T-shirt, hitch-hike
Three or more: man on the Clapham omnibus, pie in the sky, legend in one’s lifetime, rhythm and blues.
Loanword or loan translation: Art Nouveau, brassiere, u-boat, Soviet, Dada, bagel, Suprematism, al dente, dunk, robot, gigolo, quiche, kitsch, Syrah, Nazi – and, possibly, polysemy.
Formed by derivation, i.e. by adding prefix or suffix: eatery, racism, Tantric, suffragette, Freudian, tweedy, broadcaster, privatize, shitless, freebie, holistic.
Abbreviations: truncated or clipped forms – demo, taxi, cinema, deb, sax, fridge, hood;
initialisms: OMG, BBC.
New meaning grafted on to existing form: tank, rocket, Commonwealth, verb (v.), Lesbian, crisp, Odeon.
Named after someone, i.e. eponyms: pavlova, leotard, Stanislawsky, Levis.
Blends or portmanteaus: Ms., smog, motel
From Latin: vitamin(e), penicillin
Key: bold = first cited in US source; sloped bold = first cited in Brit source; roman – other source (as shown in brackets)
1900 television, hillbilly
1901 Ms., eatery
1902 number two, airport
1903 racism, man on the Clapham omnibus
1904 hip, demo (Australian), telecommunication (unidentified)
1905 Tantric, smog
1906 suffragette, teddy bear, psychoanalysis
1907 taxi, cornflakes
1908 art nouveau, boy scout
1909 neo-cortex, cinema
1910 Freudian, post-Impressionism
1911 pie in the sky, pavlova (New Zealand), brassiere (Canadian)
1912 tweedy, vitamine (named thus by a Polish scientist)
1913 comic strip, piggy bank
1914 u-boat, crossword
1915 lifestyle, bullshit, America First
1916 ponytail, red giant, tank
1917 Soviet, Commonwealth, OMG
1918 Dada, motherfucker, legend in one’s lifetime
1919 bagel, dunk, rocket
1920 T-shirt, deb(bie), leotard (unidentified)
1921 teenage (Canada), Suprematism, al dente
1922 broadcaster, robot, gigolo, quantum mechanics
1923 BBC, privatize, sax, hitch-hike, sleepwalk
1924 photocopy, Stanislawsky, rhythm and blues, shitless
1925 motel, freebie, Lesbian, quiche, kleenex
1926 fridge, Levis, kitsch, holistic (South African)
1927 stereophonic, oestrogen, pecking order
1928 polysemy, verb, Syrah
1929 penicillin, crisp, fuck off
1930 Nazi, Odeon, hood
- Does the word have some currency or resonance now? (racism, privatize, robot)
- Did it historically? (suffragette, deb, Nazi)
- Has it some cultural heritage/baggage/clout/oomph, etc? [“Cultural” in its widest sense] (Art Nouveau, psychoanalysis)
- Is it so much part of everyday language that it’s almost impossible to conceive of its being “invented”? (motel, kitsch)
- Was it a (major) discovery/invention? (television, penicillin)
- Wow! Was it really coined that long ago? (Ms., kleenex)
- Wow! You mean it didn’t exist before! No way! (pecking order, cornflakes, smog)
- Did sex come into it? [I’m only human – allegedly – after all.] (Tantric)
- Was/is it slangy? (OMG, shitless, bullshit, f*** off)