Dawning of the Age of Neology

We seem to be living in an age where anyone has the ability to invent words on the fly, adding all sorts of new vocabulary to the English language as needed. This is especially true on the web, where we make up words at a dizzying pace, dozens per day, to the point that it is becoming very difficult to keep track of all these neologisms. So many new words have entered my vocabulary this year that i literally had to make a list of all of them (with small definitions) to keep from forgetting what they mean. Many months later, i noticed that this list is beginning to look more and more like my very own mini-dictionary. I can’t help but wonder, how many of these will actually be culturally accepted, and how many will be gone by this time next year.

In case you where wondering:

“A neologism is a word, term, or phrase which has been recently created (“coined”) —often to apply to new concepts, or to reshape older terms in newer language form.” [Wikipedia definition]

A few popular examples include: podcast, google, folksonomy, slashdot effect, blogosphere, email, spam, and let’s not forget internet (not sure how we ever got anything done without that word). Many other favorites fall entirely outside of the realm of technology. For instance, Made-up words in The Simpsons turns up as one of the most heavily bookmarked pages on del.icio.us for the term “neology“.

Some would say that an increase in neologisms indicates that we are living in a period of extreme innovation where new words are constantly required to keep up with all the unique products and services that are being developed. If so, I wonder whether an increase in the production of neologisms could be used as an indicator of economic growth in the larger sense?

Ingar Roggen identifies the importance of neologisms in his writings about innovation and Gestalt theory. For more on this, you can head over to his site and read his article entitled: Root Knowledge. The part that caught my attention was toward the beginning where he outlines the importance of neology with regards to technological change. He starts out by saying, “No new science is possible without neologisms”. He goes on to say some interesting stuff like, “To reject neologisms, often despicably, is to reject scientific development”, and “everybody wanting to contribute new knowledge must be [a neologist]“.

All this fits in nicely with an earlier post i wrote entitled: “folksonomy, and people’s classification management 101” which discusses the flexibility and power of tagging as an alternative to using traditional categories to organize information. The ever-increasing number of social networking services like del.icio.us and technorati are making heavy use of tagging as a way to get at information in interesting and creative ways. One of the coolest things about tagging is that all of the terms that are used are chosen by the people who use them. Anyone is free to come up with their own made up words to describe something new, provided no other word already exists to describe what it is they’re talking about. But new tags, like all neologisms, also require cultural acceptance to ensure their survival. So, as long as the idea behind the word makes some kind of impact on our culture, people will start to use it, and these new folksonomy based softwares will probably serve to facilitate their dissemination and eventual adoption.

Oddly enough, while there are lots of articles on the web dealing with the word “folksonomy”, there isn’t that much out there being written about neology. This is surprising to me, given the growing importance of choosing unique names for new Web 2.0 products and services, standing out as a start-up, building branding, not to mention ranking well on search engines. Currently, searches for the term “neology” on both tech.memorandum and digg.com turned up no results (although “neologism” turned up 1 result on digg: Made-up words in The Simpsons – mentioned above). The same search on del.icio.us only turned up a mere 73 results, and most of these were either definitions of the term or long lists of popular neologisms (the later of which only furthers my point). Compare that number to the 1255 results returned on del.icio.us for the term “folksonomy” and some interesting questions begin to form.

Why are so many people interested in writing about folksonomies? What does it mean if everyone has a relatively equal shot at creating language? How do societies cope with an exponential growth in language (always adding more and more new words, terms and phrases to our vocabularies every year)? And finally, why is there so little being written about the growing significance of neologisms? or am i the only one who finds it interesting that suddenly everybody and their mother is creatively coming up with awesome made up words for all kinds of things from technical jargon to corporate trademarks.

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