Words in English public website
Rice University
Prof. S. Kemmer

Project: New Word Journal

This assignment, which will last through the semester, is to alert you to the creative aspects of the word formation processes of English. The assignment is to keep a "Word Journal" in which you can collect information on new words you come across.

You can collect your words in a paper notebook and/or a computer file, but the final versions of your word entries will be entered by you in an online class database, with all the information requested below for this assignment. The entries must be added by the due date for the journal (Wednesday of the last week of classes).

What to look for

Neologisms, sometimes called novel formations: These are words that are apparently novel to the language (probably not yet recorded in a dictionary). A novel word can be, for example, a known stem with a new ending (i.e. a new derivation); a new compound made up of familiar words; a preexisting form that has been given a rather different new meaning from its ordinary sense; a new loanword; or a totally new creation.

Sometimes the neologisms are "nonce words", words produced at the spur of the moment and not yet conventional among any groups. Sometimes they ARE becoming conventional, and these are the ones people are most aware of, as they learn them as part of their repetoire of English (for either comprehension only, or also for production).

For neologisms of both types you will include:

A nice example of the kinds of information you might put in your word journal is found in Michael Quinion's World Wide Words site. (The index to many of his articles on words is found here: Word Wide Words Index of Word Entries. Dr. Quinion gives his information in essay-like form, a very readable format.

Our format will follow the structure of the boxes given in the database, but inside the text boxes, you can organize your discussion of the word in the way that is most useful for you. You will use your knowledge of words gained from this class to make educated hypotheses about what processes you can observe in these new word formations and meanings.

The following is an example for the neologism chiller-killer. This example shows how how a word analyst will observe various aspects of a word and interpret its meaning and structure in a way consistent with what we have learned in the course. Not everything about every neologism will be 100% straightforward, so you will have to interpret and analyze, in the light of what you have learned in the course. You can use reference materials (authoritative sources) to gain more information. But cite any sources you use (print or web).


Grammatical category: ADJ

Type of word formation: (from menu in database): Compound. (elaboration in second text box:) Rhyming compound.

Definition: Containing numerous episodes of killing, such that a reader will be horrified ('chilled') while reading it. It seems also to suggest surprise or suspense as well. The -er suffix on chill appears to mean 'person or thing acting or causing' as in strainer ('thing that strains'); but perhaps it might also be considered the -ER that means 'characterized by' as in double-decker, two-seater.

The -er on killer is certainly 'person/thing acting', but even if the first -ER has that meaning, the two parts of the compound are not entirely parallel: it's the book or plot that chills, but it doesn't kill, even in any metaphorical sense. The book simply features killers among its characters. Possible models for this coinage are thriller and shocker which in terms of meaning fit the pattern of the first part. Writer probably coined this word because s/he was seeking colorful, but compact way of describing the style and content of a murder mystery plot, and found two rhyming words in which the desired combination of senses could be expressed. The rhyme seems to make the word particularly expressive. The existence of thriller might also be a factor; perhaps the writer wanted to say something like thriller but found the latter too much of a cliche.

Etymology: Rhyming compound formed from roots chill and kill, plus affix -er on each root.

Citation and source: "undoubtedly one of the best writers of English mysteries and chiller-killer plots" (Los Angeles Times, 1-16-91)

The number of words to be collected is 20 neologisms.

Here are some guidelines about where to get your words, including some honor code considerations:

Guidelines for New Words

© Suzanne Kemmer
Last modified August 2020