Over the past few weeks, you would have been pretty hard pressed to have not seen and heard the term Brexit used extensively. So much so, in fact, that even if you didn’t know what it was all about before, you’re all but certain to now understand that it’s the term used to describe Britain’s decision to exit the European Union. And while we’re not usually ones to dip our toes into politics, we do think that the Brexit is worthy of some discussion.
Well, from a language perspective at least.
You see, the term Brexit is an example of a neologism. That’s a fancy way of saying a new word or expression. Neologisms can be created in lots of different ways. In the case of Brexit, for example, it’s simply the result of two words being brought together (Britain + exit). The same can also be said of chillax (chill out + relax), Tweet cred (Tweet + credibility), glamping (glamor + camping), and the ever-useful Brangelina (Brad Pitt + Angelina Jolie).
Sometimes neologisms can just be a variation on an existing word, such as in the case of noob, which is just a fun way of saying newbie. In other cases, neologisms are when you simply assign a new meaning to an existing word or expression. That’s why we’re lucky enough to associate muffin tops with people’s waistlines, and to think of trolls not just as the mythological creatures that live under bridges, but also as the guys and gals who like to post mean-spirited comments online.
More Than Words
While neologisms are certainly interesting, they’re also worth paying attention to for practical reasons. That’s because as a content creator your ability to use them at the right times and in the right places matters. In that way, they’re kind of like jargon. When used well, they help to engage your readers and show that you’re a part of the same community they are because you speak their language. Use them too much or in the wrong context, however, and it can start to look gimmicky and unprofessional. Worse yet, it can alienate your readers.
There are other pitfalls that you need to navigate as well. For example, while some neologisms can stand the test of time, others can fall out of fashion. While Lewis Carroll gave us chortle (chuckle + snort) more than 140 years ago when he wrote his poem “Jabberwocky” in 1871, some of the others he came up with — such as galumph (gallop + triumph) — didn’t fare nearly as well. While that’s perhaps an extreme example, you can easily date yourself by using even relatively recent neologisms. After all, when’s the last time you heard a millennial (or anyone) talking about the blogosphere?
And while it can be tempting to try to coin your own new words and phrases, that’s obviously a lot easier said than done. Unless you’ve invented something so new and amazing that your product becomes a verb (yes, we’re talking about you, Google), or you’ve got Justin Bieber’s Twitter following, you’re going to have a tough road ahead. And, let’s face it, subjecting your readers to your new words in the hope that they take off is really just a form of cruel and unusual punishment.
The Last Word
So no matter whether Britain melts down or reaches new heights as a result of its decision to leave the European Union, we think at a minimum, they’ve helped remind us about the importance of neologisms. For content geeks like us, they’re not only incredibly interesting, but also an exercise in self-restraint as we try to refrain from coming up with our own.
Alas, we wouldn’t want to subject you to that kind of worture (word + torture).