Thursday, February 19, 2009

evolution of neologisms. examples in english. IALs

A peaknik, according to our inventive media, is a person who believes the “peak oil” theory (that supplies of oil are running out and prices will grow prohibitively high and civilization will change dramatically). The word is an example of how ironic and derogatory terms become so widespread that they lose their ironic connotations.

Peaknik is a play on peacenik, a derogatory term for an anti-war protester in the sixties, which was itself a play on beatnik, which was a play on Sputnik. The -nik ending in Russian corresponds to the -er ending in English, meaning someone who does something (buyer, watcher, traveller). The word beatnik was coined by Herb Caen, a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, in 1958, to refer humorously to the pretensions of the bohemians who called themselves “beat,” from beaten down, fatigued or downtrodden. (Contrary to popular belief, “beat” didn't refer to music.)

Sputnik I, the Soviet satellite, had been launched the year before, and it had caused great agitation in the United States, as it signalled the first Soviet victory in the space race at the height of the Cold War. Sputnik means, literally, co-traveller.

It will be pointed out that the -nik suffix had already entered American English in previous years from Yiddish – in such words as nudnik – but there can be no question that it was the Russian that inspired Caen's brilliantly condescending epithet. He meant to make the hipsters sound naively communistic.

The beat poets themselves loved to play on their chosen word: Jack Kerouac famously started associating it with the religious-sounding beatific, and spoke of the essence of their quasi-spiritual movement as beatitude, clever fellow.

But beatnik rapidly lost its negative connotation, and became another fashion to be marketed. Hollywood made a bunch of silly films with the word beatnik in the title, with busty women on the posters, selling the titillation of a promiscuous and fashionable world rather than any ideas about poetry or Buddhism. It became almost desirable to be a beatnik: There were beatnik beauty contests and fashion tips in magazines.


D: a few years ago, I thought I had coined a new neologism, "hyperthesis". I wanted to show that evolutionary theory has a very strong hypothesis. I thought it was clever.

D: oops. It had been done before.

D: how does one form a new word?


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In etymology, back-formation refers to the process of creating a new lexeme (less precisely, a new "word") by removing actual or supposed affixes. The resulting neologism is called a back-formation, a term coined by James Murray[1] in 1897.[citation needed]

Back-formation is distinguished from clipping because they change the part of speech – clipping also creates shortened words from longer words, but does not change the part of speech.

Pease was once a mass noun but was reinterpreted as a plural, leading to the back-formation pea.

For example, the noun resurrection was borrowed from Latin, and the verb resurrect was then backformed hundreds of years later from it by removing the -ion suffix. This segmentation of resurrection into resurrect + ion was possible because English had many examples of Latinate words that had verb and verb+-ion pairs — in these pairs the -ion suffix is added to verb forms in order to create nouns (such as, insert/insertion, project/projection, etc.).

The use of word-formative means (suffixes, prefixes, composition). Among the most productive neologism-formative suffixes are ian, -ation:

Recomprehension of the existing words. It means that well-known words acquire new meanings.

Abbreviations and acronyms.

D: I particularly like the history of the word "laser".

1960, acronym for "light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation," on pattern of 1955 MASER. A verb, lase, was coined 1962.

D: plus truncating and mixing. Smoke and fog- smog. Facsimile. Facs. Fax.

D: peddle came from peddlar and so on. For an aux-langer, this process seems very sloppy.

For example, cherries came from the French cerise. The S at the end made us think that was the plural form. Ergo, we chopped off the S to form singular. Ceri-. Cherry. Plural is cherries.

D: an aux-langer such as myself would introduce some simple rules for this.

1) any noun ending in S must be plural.

2) ergo singular nouns cannot be designed with -S endings.

Regarding peddlar:

1) no name of a subject engaging in an action (reader, read) may overlap with the name of a person's trade (peddlar)

2) the vowel component of minimal pairs for -er (-ar, -or) may also not be used.

In short, an aux-langer would design the vocabulary generation rules methodically.

D: Esp-o ran into trouble with this. It was too naturalistic.

The suffix rules caused subtle problems.

My fave example, as always:


There are 2 words with totally different meanings .

1) Di (god) -o (noun)

-et- for tiny, ergo di-et-o.

2) Diet (diet) -0 (noun).

D: while this word, or the many others like it could be changed, this ignores the root problem.

Bad word design. Inserting affixes makes the problem very hard to control for.

Could we ban all words with second-syllable -et to avoid confusion with -et-?

Suddenly, our apparently vast possible number of syllables and words is no longer so vast.

I call this the 'pay now or pay later' scenario. Tight rules on syllable and word formation early on appear to restrict possible combinations for generating vocabulary. However, look above for the can of worms we avoid later!

Like other people I know, I often type the wrong homophone. There, their, they're. I imagine we all have our problems. I sound stuff out in my head and my fingers then type the appropriate word.

Natural languages also squander this apparent wealth of possible words.

English is particularly bad this way. It has borrowed so many words.

Sofa, couch, chesterfield. Stuff like this drives Spanish-first speakers crazy. Their language tends to have a single word for a single concept.

D: this site is too cool! It visually maps out how these words are related on a chart!

davenport, divan, lounge, settee, couch, squab

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