How Neologism Keeps Language Growing

The rapidly-developing technology has had a major influence on our lives and provoked linguistic and cultural changes. The English language, which is increasingly gaining the status of lingua franca, is expanding every day with dictionaries trumpeting additions of new and typically very trendy words, several times a year.

In 2018, Merriam Webster and Oxford English Dictionary added hundreds of words to their dictionaries. Among them are a group of technology-related words that we are familiar with, even though we do not use them every day. Some of these words are biohacking, fintech, force quit, unfollow, hashtag, retweet, selfie, phablet, inbox, troll, etc., and the list goes on. We may feel that some of these words do not deserve an inclusion in dictionaries. But that is the beauty of the language and that is how neologism keeps the language growing. For a word to get entry into dictionaries, it does not need to be used by people every day, but just a small portion of the population occasionally.

Some of the prominent brand names have become a synonym for the work involving their products. A classic example is “Xerox”. The brand name has been commonly used as a noun for reproducing a photocopy of printed or written documents, books, etc. Dictionaries define the term Xerox as a. (n) a brand name for a copying machine for reproducing printed, written, or pictorial matter by xerography, and (v) to make a copy of a document using a Xerox or other copying machine. The brand name has so much influence on people’s mind that even its rivals Canon, Konica Minolt, HP, etc., could not even replace it.

Similarly, UK-based Hoover Company’s vacuum cleaners were hugely popular, prompting lexicographers to add the term “to hoover” as a verb formant. Dictionaries define the term as “to clean (something) with a vacuum cleaner”.

Tech bellwethers like Microsoft and Apple have coined several terms related to techno-lingo word-cloud namechecked in the definition of “operating system”. Lexicographers define operating system as “a software that controls the operation of a computer and directs the processing of programs”.

With its prominence and dominance, search engine major Google also contributed its eponymous verb. Dictionary.com defines the term “google (n)” as “to use a search engine, such as Google, to find information, a website address, etc., on the Internet. Now, the term has been used as a generic word “to search the Internet” with any search engine of any company, not just Google itself. In 2002 the American Dialect Society declared ‘google’ as the word of the year and later to be word of the decade. The usage of the transitive verb google increased ubiquitously. Needless to say, Google has turned out to be people’s collective global memory and they use googling to access that memory.

Before smartphones became popular, people used to send text messages using ‘SMS’ (short message system) service to other mobile phones. The acronym later was used as a noun or a verb form as in “SMS me your address.” “Or She SMSed him several times, he didn’t reply”. However, when smartphones became popular and people moved to cross-platform mobile messaging apps, such as WhatsApp, WeChat, IMO and others, for sending messages and images, SMS lost its glory.

Since its inception in 2009 by two former Yahoo employees, WhatsApp gained a huge popularity among smartphone users, with total user base touching over 1.5 billion in 2017. Increasing popularity of the term prompted several dictionaries to add the word to their database. Macmillan Dictionary defines the word whatsapp (v) as “to communicate with somebody using the social media app, WhatsApp”.

The wide usage of social networking apps like Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and Instagram has led to the addition of several terms in dictionaries. One of the major additions is the new senses for “tweet” as a noun and a verb. With the inclusion of tweet in dictionaries, Twitter now enjoys the imprimatur of our most influential lexicographers. The Oxford English Dictionary recognized the term ‘tweet’ as a verb and a noun. Its definitions read: “a. intr. to make a posting on the social networking service Twitter. Also: to use Twitter regularly or habitually,” and “b. trans. To post (a message, item of information, etc.) on Twitter. Also: to post a message to (a particular person, organization, etc.).”

Instagram also made its entry into dictionaries as a noun and verb. Cambridge Dictionary defines the verb form of the term as “to take and share an image of something using Instagram”.

Another coinage, to uberize, comes from ride-hailing app Uber, whose business model disrupted the taxi industry with its mobile-app backed data analytics to provide cheaper services to consumers. Collins Dictionary defines the term as “to subject (an industry) to a business model in which services are offered on demand through direct contact between a customer and a supplier, usually via mobile technology”. The concept of uberization has taken a general meaning of disrupting any industry with the use of innovation and technology to hinder legislation and unnecessary bureaucracy.

The English language is expanding everyday with contributions from all over the word. As the technology is developing and more and more brands and startups are gaining popularity, contributions from them to lexicographers will also increase going forward.