Tuesday, 26 August 2008

The love of neologisms

Forty years ago I fell in love with a German.

A German word, that is.

The word was meinetwegen. Its silky syllables rolled off my tongue and I've been using it ever since. To me it means in my opinion. Today, my sister asked me which one of her fabric designs I preferred and I pointed to one and said, "That one - meinetwegen".

But here's the rub.

I just now looked it up in a German dictionary and discovered I'm using it incorrectly. So, do I have to stop using it? My family know what I mean, and they're the only ones who hear it.

Where do words get their meanings? I think it's by mutual agreement between speaker and listener, and that's why words can morph into new creatures - neologisms - over time. Take the example of the extraordinary change in the meaning of that all-purpose word, nice; it evolved from meaning foolish to denoting agreeable.

Words are all around us. They define the way we experience the world. I love discovering new words, whether they are accidents of history or deliberately coined. A visit to Word Spy, a 'site devoted to lexpionage, the sleuthing of new words and phrases' reveals the extent of change in our language.

I'm starting this blog to express my love of language. I'd love to hear from you if you share my passion.


Mary said...

I think I heard that wan used to mean red and now means pale.

parlance said...

Mary, I've heard something about that. It's to do with people dying of the plague, maybe? But I think it might have started out meaning black.
I'll have to check. Or you could...
I'd be interested to hear.

Vincent said...

I did not love any of the neologisms reported by WordSpy. I don't suppose they will catch on either: just jokes by the chattering classes.