Neologisms: inventing new words and terms

This is a question from Sandy in South Africa:

Listen to the audio version of this post:

The Question

Hello, English4Today, I’ve been struggling with a grammar issue for which I don’t seem to be able to find much information . Would you be able to assist me in this:

If one were to create a word from a well-known person’s name (+ing) in order to describe a behaviour that this person is most known for, what would one call this?

For example:

Person: Juno

Known for: shock-value antics

Example sentence: Anna was Junoing as if gasps were just as essential as the air she breathed.

How would the word ‘Junoing‘ be classified, grammatically?

It has been suggested that it would be a gerund. However, seeing as gerunds are formed from verbs+ing – with ‘Juno’ being a noun and not a verb – would this be correct? 

The Answer

Thanks for that great question, Sandy. Not only does it touch on a bit of grammar but it shows very clearly how flexible and creative English can be.

There are a few things to talk about here:

The first is the term that we use when we create a new word in English. When we do this we are creating a neologism. That word could be a noun, a verb, an adjective or an adverb. For example, think of ‘scrooge‘, ‘orwellian’, or ‘trumpian’ or words like ‘noob’, ‘selfie’, ‘lol’ – these are all neologisms. 

Usually, a neologism is created to describe something very specific. Take ‘orwellian’. The author, George Orwell, wrote a novel, ‘1984’, about a dystopian society in the grips of a government that deliberately perverts language and truth to suit their political aims. Not too unfamiliar a scenario today. Since he wrote that novel his name, Orwell, has been neologized and used to describe governments or societies that resemble in one way or another the one portrayed in ‘1984’. So we can now say, for example: “The use of fake news by the x administration is orwellian.” 

In Sandy’s case, a person’s name, ‘Juno’, has been taken and transformed into a verb, ‘to juno‘ meaning to display a certain type of shock behaviour. Once it is neologized we can use it (since we invented it!) pretty much however we like:

  • Yesterday, I was totally junoed by her.
  • I’m sure he’ll do a juno at the party next week.
  • That was a really junoesque way to behave.
  • I will juno any newbie who starts working with us.

Of course, for it to be understood you need at least one other person to know what you’re describing with ‘to juno’ or ‘ juno’.

Sandy’s example: ‘Anna was junoing…’ is simply using the verb ‘to juno’ in the past progressive tense. She was junoing, they were junoing, I was junoing etc.

Hope that helps Sandy!

Here are a couple of links out to good posts on neologizing and neologisms:

 

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