Where Words Come From

The study of words is called lexicology—not to be confused with phraseology, philology, syntax, morphology, lexicography or semantics. How do lexicologists create new words? Actually, they don’t—think how ridiculous it would be if a deranged lexicologist had the power and desire to create hundreds of new words! In reality, they observe the way English is used and choose words from their findings.

The English lexicon has mutated over time from a variety of parent languages, primarily Latin, French and Old English. These languages stretch back to a language family called Proto-Indo-European (or PIE). The most significant transformation of English happened in the eleventh century. When the Normans invaded England in the 1066, they brought their words with them. For centuries, wealthier aristocrats spoke Old Norman (or Old French) and the peasantry spoke English (Middle English to be precise). Inevitably, the languages mixed, and English acquired the French words that now constitute about 30% of the English vocabulary.

With global colonization in the early 1500s, English continued to amalgamate with other languages. Individual words such as futon, pecan, coyote and vodka were imported directly from foreign languages like Japanese and Algonquin. Calques are another interesting example of word importation. They are borrowed phrases that are directly translated from another language. For example, “flea market” comes directly from the French marché aux puces which literally means “market of fleas.”

Few words are made up out of thin air, but some neologisms have become accepted words. Neologism itself was a neologism. First used in French from the Greek roots neo- (new) and logos (word), neologism appeared in English in 1772. Authors (most notably Shakespeare) combine and invent words for their own uses. The Bard was the first to use more than a thousand words including attest, gnarled, howl, pageantry, and savagery. (He also coined numerous phrases that continue to be used daily: a sorry sight, a sea change, good riddance, lie low, short shrift, and wear your heart on your sleeve, among many others.)

In rarer instances, a word is directly derived from a person’s name. These are called eponyms. For example, the word “pasteurize” comes from the scientist Louis Pasteur who invented the process of heating food to kill bacteria.

Before widespread cheap print, some dictionaries were only revised every forty years, but with new words being invented (accidentally and intentionally) every day, dictionaries today update their corpora annually (or even more often). Last year Sarah Palin’s Twitter typo “refudiate” caused quite a lexicological uproar. The New Oxford American Dictionary embraced the malapropism and added the word to their dictionary; the editors went so far as to choose the word as their 2010 Word of the Year. (Read our discussion of Palin’s slip-up here.)

More recently in the New York Times Magazine, writer Lizzie Skurnick has started suggesting new words every week, such as brattle (to discuss one’s children, often at length), denigreet (to deliberately pretend to have never met someone), and smearch (to Google someone in hopes of finding bad news about him or her). (Brattle already is a word meaning “to scamper noisily,” but Skurnick proposed a new sense.) Her suggestions reveal the ethos of our time and offer a vocabulary to describe it, but we’d be surprised to see them in a dictionary any time soon.

Natural adaptation aside, what makes a word really count? How does it get to join the club? Just because you said “zingledwarf” to your friends doesn’t mean that it should automatically be added to the dictionary. In order to be included in the English lexicon, a word must be used in print, and the meaning must be ratified in multiple print publications in which the term has the same meaning.

We’re adding new words to our dictionary regularly. What words do you think should we add? Where did you first see them?


  1. Mark C. -  June 1, 2016 - 11:32 am

    I would like to see the word “Nefarity” added. Meaning, acts committed in nefarious ways. “His abuse of power was mired in nefarity.” The application of “nefariousness”, or “iniquitous” doesn’t seem to have the same utility, that I am looking for.

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  3. owais -  August 3, 2015 - 1:57 am

    can somemone plz tell me how are words added to dictionary.com in brief if possible it is my summer assignment

  4. joel -  October 18, 2014 - 10:20 pm

    The word invalent.. It is commonly used to describe someone that is handicap or disabled.

  5. Meeple Man -  November 4, 2012 - 11:35 pm

    Meeple should really be added to the dictionary. http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/meeple – for more info. Plus, I’m sure you can find more citations than on this page.

  6. koda -  May 2, 2012 - 1:44 pm

    Ain’t has been used since the late 1700′s, why is it not a word yet?

  7. K.1 -  May 1, 2012 - 12:29 pm


  8. Marvin Welborn -  May 1, 2012 - 4:17 am

    I can firmly feel the mental image of a “pecstacular” woman; but, Alas! for this old man, that’s as firmly real as it will ever get, lexicon or not.

  9. JENNY! -  May 1, 2012 - 1:49 am

    i love words because they are good

  10. bubba -  April 25, 2012 - 11:26 am

    A stunning young woman strode into the raucous crowd. All heads turned and as she approached our midst, all conversation stuttered to a stop. Long and leggy, broad sholdered and amply endowed, she wasn’t just beautiful. Not meerley magnificent. She was, can I say, Pecstacular!

  11. Murouaa -  April 23, 2012 - 11:12 pm

    How are you?

  12. Musical Root -  December 15, 2011 - 8:55 am

    You say …

    They are borrowed phrases that are directly translated from another language. For example, “flea market” comes directly from the French marché aux puces which literally means “market of fleas.”

    You don’t add that some are translated mondegreens. So, for example, l’enfant de castille becomes elephant and castle.

  13. Sabine Panneau -  December 1, 2011 - 7:10 am

    I propose the word Expatrepreneur! It defines perfectly who I am and with the state of the global economy, there is going to be many more of us in the coming years! So watch out for these expatrepreneurs everywhere around the world!

  14. Tobias Mook -  November 30, 2011 - 7:18 pm

    I was very disheartened when I heard that “chillax” was added to the Oxford dictionary, but now I’, beginning to respect that we’re adding words that are used everyday. We should respect new ideas no matter what.

  15. TETO -  November 30, 2011 - 5:15 pm

    As the dictionary is changing and evolving constantly not only new words are added but old words concomitantly discarded. Personally I care not what someone else tells me is an actual word. Talking and life is for fun so my preference is using the words my friends or babies created inadvertently . It gives me pleasure and entertains others. As an example my friend came to Vegas and said, ” Let’s not eat at home. Let’s go to a
    ” Buffood.” Can you argue with that? Baby grandson couldn’t pronounce “F”, it came out “S”. We said, “Oh, isn’t that “Sunny”. Granddaughter’s descriptive word. Bunch & Bushel became “Bunchel”. A Mexican friend said, “Poopy” not puppy. Quite accurate. Create your own and laugh.

  16. v-raze -  November 30, 2011 - 12:34 pm

    @Dieter: I understand you being offended by Ignarent (he’s such a racist jerk) but did you have to say anything about/to hewhosaysfish? He was just explaining to everyone the difference in dialects. It’s not like we are the only people reading the comment boxes.

  17. Dieter -  November 30, 2011 - 10:28 am

    @Ignarant @hewhosaysfish Oh! I consider myself truly ‘ticked off” in both senses of the phrase, and I will ‘tick this off’ in my little book of grammar. Is this a third meaning? Sorry, another Britishism, Ignarant. You would call it ‘check off’.

  18. DukeMutt -  November 30, 2011 - 10:14 am

    Yoyoish doesn’t seem like a synonym for gangsta to me. When I read it I thought it was a synonym for tentative or indecisive, like a yoyo goes up and down, the person changes their mind or mood constantly. They just go from one extreme to another. Like “Hot and Cold” by Katy Perry, the person described as yoyoish is “hot and cold, yes and no, up and down” etc.

  19. Dictionary Fan -  November 30, 2011 - 7:04 am

    Re: title “What words belong in dictionary?”

    Wouldn’t “which” work better than “what” in this instance?

  20. Matilde -  November 30, 2011 - 5:53 am

    As an English teacher some of my expected deviations to English are “a lot” as one word and acceptance of double negatives such as : I “don’t never” cry. For instance, never is already a contraction of “not ever,” so what is said is literally: “I do not not ever cry.” It should be either, “I never cry” or I don’t ever cry.”. Another example: I don’t like “neither” of them should be “I don’t like either of them, or “I like neither of them.”. Referring to the “to Google,” or “to Facebook,” mentioned earlier in this article, they are the infinitive form of the verb, such as to eat, to sleep, to run. That’s how a noun like Google becomes a verb.

  21. Butterfly -  November 30, 2011 - 5:31 am

    @Grace What does cublar mean?

  22. Mariposa -  November 30, 2011 - 5:22 am

    @Ignarent I think you’re totally right. People these days keep posting things when it pops into their head. They don’t realize that it makes them seem stupid. BTW is ain’t in the dictionary now?

  23. Flavia -  November 30, 2011 - 5:03 am

    I’m an English teacher and a sociologist, and I sometimes work with translation for scholars. One thing that I think is usually misunderstood is the difference between specialized jargoon and what goes into generic dictionaries. Sometimes jargoons make their way into general language dictionaries because the subject is being talked and written about in the news. There are many examples of this, I think that mainly in the biological areas, because they are the most unremitting source of palatable scientific news and news concerning health. Nevertheless, when you get to other areas, like mathematics, physics and even the social sciences, things get a little blurred.
    Just as an example, in the social sciences, the general language dictionary cannot help you when you try to decide which is best between the terms “build” and “construct”. I’ve seen people (translators and scholars) using the first term instead of the latter to refer to cultural phenomena, but when one has extensive reading in the subject one knows that the current term is “construction” (and not “building”) when one refers to the idea that social and ideological or cultural phenomena are constructed by social contexts and social forces.

    I have found, in my relationship with scholars, that although they are researchers in their own field, they fail to consider dictionaries as the result of research, and fail to consider the parameters of these researches when choosing the words to translate their texts. Many times they do not consider the difference between jargoon and general usage words. A text from the point of view of word-specialists as yourselves would be welcome.

    thanks :)

  24. hewhosaysfish -  November 30, 2011 - 2:49 am

    ‘Why is there a “to” in front of everything?’

    It’s the infinitive form.

    I think he means that he gets made angry.
    “Verb phrase
    11. tick off, Slang .
    a. to make angry: His mistreatment of the animals really ticked me off.
    b. Chiefly British . to scold severely: The manager will tick you off if you make another mistake. “

  25. Simple Random Sample -  November 29, 2011 - 10:36 pm

    I still don’t think slang and such is horrible or anything. When an author makes a character speak a certain way, I think that is gives the reader a way to identify the character. If the character uses slang, I think that it is a way to spice up the story. (Although, I have to say that reading slang does get tiring after a bit!)

  26. Simple Random Sample -  November 29, 2011 - 10:31 pm

    @Ignarent, did you intentionally spell your name like that? I agree with you about the “to” stuff… However, I don’t know if it was necessary to make a generalization that all people, in general, are dumb… Plus, maybe it was just a little mean? I mean, she or he was just voicing an opinion. Besides, people can be really smart in certain things, but they might not be the best at grammar. Being bad at grammar does not make a person dumb.

    Rather than trying to come up with new words, I wish that we would revert to how we spoke in the past. Yes, it would be so cool if we all spoke like Shakespeare! His writing is so amazing! Then maybe more people would actually enjoy reading Hamlet!

  27. Saluton -  November 29, 2011 - 10:02 pm

    “These languages stretch even farther back to a language family called Proto-Indo-European (or PIE).”

    Your dictionary, as well as Wikipedia, describes Proto-Indo-European as a single language, rather than a family.

  28. jumpin4jesus -  November 29, 2011 - 10:01 pm

    “To google” is the infinitive form, while “googled” is the past tense.

  29. bleh -  November 29, 2011 - 9:26 pm


    a comibination of Chinese and English, primarily used by Chinese-American kids talking to their parents. When encountering a Chinese word unknown, the kid swaps it out with the English word. :D

  30. Kriss -  November 29, 2011 - 8:14 pm

    *P.S. – The word “requiesce” is, however, pronounced the same was as “aquiesce” is.

  31. Kriss -  November 29, 2011 - 8:05 pm

    I have a word you can add to your dictionary! It’s “requiesce”, (not to be confused with “aquiesce”). It’s derived from the word “requiem” which is a mass for the repose of the souls of the dead, or a mournful song performed at such a mass. The word “requiesce” is the verb form of the word and it means to mourn with great sorrow.

  32. ashley -  November 29, 2011 - 7:45 pm

    how do you get to find the meanings
    of the words this sucks how do people find the meanings
    i wish we didnt had homework

  33. Curly -  November 29, 2011 - 6:44 pm

    @ John
    Did you know that the word ‘ask’ used to be pronounced /aeks/ (aks)? Did you know that the word ‘you’ in place of ‘thou’ was considered bad grammar at one point? Did you know that fast shouldn’t be used as an adverb, as -ly has not been added? Fifty years ago, you would be complaining about all of the crazy youngsters that incorrectly say ‘He is taller than me’ as opposed to ‘he is taller than I.’ Languages change! It’s normal. It’s impossible to pinpoint a time in history where the English language was “perfect.” Try it! The real way to try love your language is by embracing its’ changes and varieties, and simply enjoying the roller coaster ride we are all on (by the way, I used a preposition at the end of my sentence. Read Winston Churchill’s comments on this subject for more information.).

  34. ;* -  November 29, 2011 - 5:47 pm

    umm soo wouldnt it be kool if thiz thingy were still used now in days.?
    yeahh got bored haha <3
    got to love me.!^-^

  35. Pizza... yum! -  November 29, 2011 - 5:40 pm

    zingledwarf should be a word!

  36. ginny -  November 29, 2011 - 5:30 pm

    Pricilla just used the infinitives of those words.
    I, however, do not think that those words should be added because what would happen to them when Google, Facebook, and Twitter are no longer in use? Would they just be expunged? I think that we need more permanence in the words that we choose to add to our reference books.

  37. Ignarent -  November 29, 2011 - 4:47 pm

    @Dieter- First, I explained how and why I get ticked off, so read what I originally wrote. That should answer your question. Second, don’t assume everyone is from the UK. English words have different meanings and spellings, based on where you live. I’m in the U.S. (We spell criticize with a Z not an S).

    Regarding your last sentence, what were you trying to write? I need someone or women to tick me off? I am leaning more towards women, as they like to criticize and tell people off.

  38. melba earlobes -  November 29, 2011 - 4:37 pm

    I wonder if you can give requests for new words in the dictionary, I mean how else would lol be added to the dictionary.

  39. snutt -  November 29, 2011 - 4:00 pm

    a Whooperstickle is the rash that you get after having been snapped with a rubberband

  40. ..... -  November 29, 2011 - 3:52 pm

    That is a nice word

  41. Nshera -  November 29, 2011 - 3:31 pm

    My friend said christimaligim is a word, but I don’t think so!!!!!!!!! :) :) :P! I am B-)

  42. Cyberquill -  November 29, 2011 - 3:19 pm

    There’s a lot of lobbying and logrolling going on at the big dictionaries to get particular words earmarked for inclusion. We know the game.

  43. Citizen Jerry -  November 29, 2011 - 1:56 pm

    I know that neologisms, newly coined words, are always being added to dictionary in an effort to be “trendy.” But my respect for one dictionary went down a couple of levels when they accepted “Doh!” (re: Homer Simpson) as a word.

  44. NEOLOGISMS | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  November 29, 2011 - 1:26 pm

    [...] Toasties” once a cereal — Corny! It might seem — ‘Neologisms’ interrupt-us, — with Milk or Heavy Cream — Communication Breakdown — from one [...]

  45. Steve in Ohio -  November 29, 2011 - 12:47 pm

    There is “no”. Oops.

  46. Steve in Ohio -  November 29, 2011 - 12:46 pm

    How about couragion, as in courageous champion? There is not antonym for coward. How can this be?

  47. smoothius -  November 29, 2011 - 12:39 pm

    how bout we all start talking like smurfs but use the word shizznizzle instead… ” whew, i sure am shizznizzled after that shizznizzly day of shizznizzling”

  48. *;) -  November 29, 2011 - 12:16 pm

    (yoyoish)^..thts a cute word an all but idk if its a real word..i have never heard it an u might be thinking of a diff word or someone u were talking to tht u heard it from used it wrong ppl do it all the time(tht kinda stuff)so maybe thts what happened..idk..check it at dif sources cuz maybe it is a real word but i wanna kno if it is!.. :D..i would def start useing it..it could be a new thing fer ppl like the word legit..lol:).

  49. Grace -  November 29, 2011 - 12:15 pm

    I got really mad at my history teacher today. He told me cubular is not a word. I am determined to get cubular in the dictionary.

  50. Waldo Pepper -  November 29, 2011 - 12:06 pm


  51. Mr. D [A.K.A] Elysian -  November 29, 2011 - 11:13 am

    I made a word : D, it’s qwam; pronunced Kw-am. It means park
    i.e. Guy1: hey man wanna chill later?
    Guy2: sure man just meet me at the qwam in 20.

  52. Human -  November 29, 2011 - 10:14 am

    May I suggest the word “yoyoish”? It’s a synonym for gansta.
    Is he cute?
    –Yeah, but he’s too yoyoish for me.

  53. Dieter -  November 29, 2011 - 9:27 am

    @ Ignorant, I am going to be really ‘ignorant’ and ‘idiotic’ (your words) and quote you being ‘ticked off’. How so? By whom? Here in the UK to be ticked off means ‘to be told off, to be criticised’. So you need womeone to tick you off.

  54. Alexxandra -  November 29, 2011 - 8:41 am

    Is “corpa” such a neologism? That should read “corpora”, of course.

  55. Hannah -  November 29, 2011 - 7:19 am

    I noticed the word “quiz” isn’t mentioned in this article. I read somewhere that someone made it up on a bet. Also, Tra Bolo, I don’t see why the word “gullible” would be removed, people use it everyday.

  56. Jany -  November 29, 2011 - 6:54 am

    I wonder how long its been sence a new dictionary was made.

  57. John -  November 29, 2011 - 5:59 am

    What is sad, disheartening and heralding the downfall of all claim to civilization is the inclusion of street words spoken by those who just can’t be bothered to learn real English. Is “ain’t” now sanctioned and entrenched in the dictionary? Is “bling” soon to follow? These days, it’s hard to tell where our language is “at”? That one makes me cringe every time I hear it. To love, respect and defend your native tongue is a perilous devotion.

  58. Ignarent -  November 29, 2011 - 3:50 am

    @sara Naameh-really, what are you talking about? You took the time to post something here that makes absolutely no sense. What are you trying to say? Please, expand on this. Tell us how this came about, why you think it is needed, how often do you use it/hear it. How is it pronounced? Do you only use it when under the influence?

    I really get ticked off when people make suggestions, and they aren’t thought out..just spills right out of their mouth and shared with the world. No thought, no editing… Look at @Priscilla-”to google”, “to facebook” and “to tweet” could be valid words? Why is there a “to” in front of everything? What is happening to people? Are people getting dumber? I must say, for a dictionary site, I am in shock with how many idiotic comments are written here. I’d expect this sort of thing at the end of a Yahoo article.

  59. Ignarent -  November 29, 2011 - 3:11 am

    @tra bolo-someone told you Gullible is going to be removed from the dictionary? And you believed them?! They must have thought you gullible. I think moolenyon should be added to the dictionary. It means eggplant, and is widely used.

  60. Atreyu -  November 29, 2011 - 2:54 am

    My wife has an uncanny knack for unintentionally creating new words in her day to day use of vocabulary. The newest word is scrouch, which means to squat and crouch simultaneously.

    The silly thing is that she believes her words are ‘real’ words. I love my funny girl! :)

  61. Truth From Dare -  November 29, 2011 - 12:42 am

    We need a neologism such as ‘The Posties’ to describe the world era we live in, because we are in a post-everything world (Post Enlightenment, Post Colonialist, Post Industrialist, Post Foundationalist, Post Nationalist). By “Post” I mean we have grown beyond it, just as the Modern world grew out of the Medieval world.

  62. Juma Geoffrey Jeff-kass -  November 29, 2011 - 12:30 am

    It is always true that a book should not be judged by its cover. This book is wow! It is good indeed.

  63. Hannah -  November 28, 2011 - 11:51 pm

    Tobious Mook, New languages could evolve if two people groups speaking the same language separate. The languages would then evolve separately and… a new language! :)

  64. Book Worm :) -  November 28, 2011 - 10:20 pm

    @Honchama I love that book!! And it isn’t a word :/

  65. Tra Bolo -  November 28, 2011 - 8:50 pm

    Who’s to say that Frindle isnt a word just because the internet does not have it? Gullible is a word but I think is getting removed… So is gullible not a word just because its not the dictionary? No… It just depends on the human’s perception of things

  66. meep -  November 28, 2011 - 8:47 pm

    Why would you need to say “to Google” when you could say googled?

  67. Sarah Naameh -  November 28, 2011 - 7:44 pm

    ‘By it would mean however’, I mean they would be like extremely close synonyms.

  68. Sarah Naameh -  November 28, 2011 - 7:41 pm

    I think a good word to be added is fortor (first just say it a few times because it sounds good). It would mean however, ex: She wanted to go the mall, fortor she didn’t do her homework, so she didn’t get to go.

  69. Momo -  November 28, 2011 - 7:07 pm

    The easiest way to get a word into the dictionary is to get a lot of people to keep saying it and using it online.
    The word “swag” now has another definition because somebody did this.

  70. Priscilla -  November 28, 2011 - 7:00 pm

    I think “to google” and “to facebook” and “to tweet” could be valid words they add… also, “to text”

  71. sherryyu -  November 28, 2011 - 6:50 pm

    i wonder too, honchama kool i think the word:brainstastic should be in the dictionaries

  72. Alvin Gongora -  November 28, 2011 - 6:38 pm

    What about “polyglish”? Just it happened with the Normans of old and their linguistic influence on English, something similar is taking place today as the English language is spoken and misspoken around the world. The resulting cacophony of accents and even lexicographic malapropisms (think of the creative literal translations into Mandarin resulting in Chinglish) are creating a new lingua franca that nevertheless remains deeply rooted in English.

  73. Betsy -  November 28, 2011 - 6:36 pm

    The kids at my school have a slew of slang words – so many I can’t even name them all. I’m sure they’d like THEM put in the dictionary, so that our English teacher will quit saying “Sorry that’s not a word!”
    P.S. I looked up “frindle” on this website. Sorry, it’s not a word.

  74. virgi -  November 28, 2011 - 6:22 pm

    How do I get a career in this field?

  75. Henchman -  November 28, 2011 - 6:22 pm

    No. But it fictionally represents the lexicon process.

  76. Tobias Mook -  November 28, 2011 - 6:18 pm

    Hmm. I wonder how new languages appear? It’s one thing to have an evolving language, but how does a whole new one come into being?

  77. AnWulf -  November 28, 2011 - 5:52 pm

    It’s not so much as new words but old ones that were shoved aside by the Norman-French “infaru” (OE invasion). Huru (especially) cool words like “bedoven” (drenched/drowned) and “fornytlic” (very useful) words like “umbe” (around).

  78. Honchama -  November 28, 2011 - 5:37 pm

    The book Frindle is about this. I wonder if frindle is actually a word.


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