New Words and Changing Uses

Jeanne Fahnestock

in Rhetorical Style

Published in print October 2011 | ISBN: 9780199764129
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199918928 | DOI:
New Words and Changing Uses

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The English lexicon changes constantly as users coin new words and press existing words into new uses. Novel English words are formed by a variety of methods, including compounding existing words, adding affixes, clipping, blending, creating acronyms, and converting from one part of speech to another. Many of these word-morphing and coining options were discussed in rhetorical manuals, and understanding these methods of word formation leads to an appreciation of English morphology. Coined words are often rhetorical “hot spots”; they indicate an arguer's attempt to convey a novel content/form pairing, and they often argue for “newness” in themselves. This chapter offers examples of each form of coinage, some from arguments where the new word trenchantly delivers an argument. The chapter also covers the inevitable processes of users changing meanings over time, and of losing words as they fall out of current if not potential usage. The process of change and loss is illustrated with an extended case study of the variable meanings of the word junk, beginning with its use by Darwin in a passage from The Voyage of the Beagle where the sense is difficult to recover.

Keywords: nonce words; compounds; prefixes; suffixes; blends; acronyms; catachresis; meaning change; junk; Darwin

Chapter.  9110 words. 

Subjects: Language Teaching and Learning

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