How New English Words are Born (Part 2)

The ability of English to evolve constantly as a language can be put down to several factors, one being that native speakers of the language relish playing with it, resulting in new vocabulary being invented all the time.

Of course, not all new words make it into the dictionary; nor do they manage to stay put if they get listed, for that matter. In a previous post we spoke about some ways in which new English words are born; here are some more ways in which new words enter the English language. 

3. Blending

Blending is the process of creating a new word, called a blend or portmanteau word, by combining parts of existing words. This method of coining new words by putting together the beginning of one word and the end of another has been around for centuries now. Even though there are no hard and fast rules about how to form a blend, it is noticeable that at least one of the words involved in the fusion has something chopped off it. Here are some examples of blends.

BlendCombination of
brunchbreakfast + lunch
smogsmoke + fog
flexitarianflexible + vegetarian
freemiumfree + premium

4. Conversion

This refers to the method of changing a word from one word class (e.g. noun, verb, adjective, adverb) to another. To put it another way, a new word can be formed by simply changing the grammatical function of an existing word. So, the next time you say that you will email or download something, think about this: you are using English words that originally began life as nouns. 

Here are some more nouns that later became verbs: friend, bomb, email, text, elbow, blog, lace, chair, drink, divorce, intern, model, voice.

5. Back-formation

When we form words with back-formation, we chop off a part of an already existing word that is considered to be an affix. This method is most commonly employed to make verbs out of nouns. 

Back-formationExisting word
absorbabsorption
babysitbabysitter
burgleburglar
editeditor

6. Loanwords

Perhaps the most straightforward way to create new words is to borrow them from other languages. Over the years, English has borrowed generously from other languages, some of which are Latin, French, German, Japanese, Spanish and Hindi. When English speakers come across a word in a foreign language that describe something that they don’t yet have a word for, they tend to borrow it. Here are some popular loanwords:

LoanwordLanguage borrowed from
pandaNepali
kindergartenGerman
shampooHindi
caféFrench
platonicGreek
karaokeJapanese

Do not forget to read the final part in this series if you wish to know about some more methods of inventing new words.

Visit the British Council’s Learn English website.

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