Our English language has a huge vocabulary – possibly larger than any other language.
This is because we have had so many varied sources. The Anglo-Saxons brought their West Germanic languages with them. After the Norman invasion of 1066, French became the language of the courts. The church, universities and legal world used Latin, so many new words were added. We have also absorbed vocabulary from all around the world, having become an international language.
All this brings me to my point – we already have millions of words at our disposal, and yet new words are being added as I write this, at the rate of about a thousand a year.
And these are only the words that make it into the dictionary. Many new words are bandied about in conversation, but don’t make the cut into the dictionaries.
Queensland puzzler Marlene Bell writes to ask what process takes place when a new word or phrase is introduced into usage. “Does a person have his/her proposal considered accepted and registered, and who do they approach?”
Good question, Marlene.
If you have invented a useful word, you have to use it yourself, so that it catches on in conversation and writing, until others pick it up. The advent of internet and social media has made the spread of new words much faster.
Oxford English Dictionary’s team of lexicographers study newspapers and websites to evaluate words for inclusion. They look for evidence that it is widely used in print or online.
The most common form of a new word is made by adding a prefix to an existing one, such as pre- (preschool or pre-Christian) or a suffix -ful (zestful, spoonful).
Compounding two existing words is another way, such as polecat, sunstroke, or portmanteau words, such as sitcom or motel.
A noun is sometimes turned into a verb, such as to friend someone, or verb to noun such as roadkill.
Words sometimes come from a person or place, such as sandwich (Lord Sandwich) or marathon (Marathon in Greece).
Abbreviations are becoming more popular, such as initialisms DIY, ASAP, BYO and RSVP or shortened words info or cuppa. Texting has produced a swag of new acronyms such as LOL, YOLO or FOMO.
It gets a bit confusing though. PC could stand for personal computer, postcard, police constable, politically correct, per cent or Privy Counsellor.