How New English Words are Born (Part 3)

Among other things, one aspect that helps English grow at such a steady pace is its extensive use in specialised areas, such as science, medicine, technology and the internet. Naturally, whenever a need arises to express new ideas or define new objects, new vocabulary is born.

In this final part in the series, you will read about three more ways in which new words and phrases get added to the language. 

7. Clipping

Clipping refers to the act of shortening a longer word, quite often making it monosyllabic. For instance, a website where an individual, or an organisation, adds details about recent events or topics of interest was originally called a ‘weblog’ before it got shortened to ‘blog’.

Quite often clipped words gain in popularity, consigning the original words or phrases into oblivion. When was the last time you heard someone say they had ‘influenza’?  The clipped version of the word, ‘flu’, is what you’re likely to hear them say! 

Clipped wordOriginal word
brobrother
examexamination
lablaboratory
zoozoological garden
the netthe internet

8. Abbreviation

Abbreviations, which are short forms of words or phrases, frequently enter the dictionary as new words. One good thing about them is that the average person can use them accurately without having to understand what the initial letters represent. Not everyone who talks about DVDs, for example, is aware of what the initial letters stand for: digital versatile disc.

Oftentimes abbreviations that get popular in quick time tend to be acronyms. They are short forms made using the first letters of the words that make up a name, and they can be pronounced as words. An acronym that pops up regularly when we talk about supermarkets is BOGOF (buy one get one free).      

9. New words

If you were to take a close look at all new words coined in English in recent times, it will quickly dawn on you that most of them have some language feature that we’re already familiar with. As surprising as this may sound, entirely new words that enter English each year are very few in number. An original word such as ‘google’ is a rare sight indeed.

Even though hundreds of words get coined every year, not all of them manage to survive for too long. The survival of new vocabulary depends on frequency of use. Clearly, if a concept becomes obsolete over time, then words representing it will very soon diminish in use and invariably disappear. 

So, in 2035, will we all still ‘Facebook’our friends? Well, your guess is as good as mine!

Read our previous blog posts about how new English words are born: Part 1 and Part 2

Visit the British Council’s Learn English website.

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