One of my friends has started using the word 'vying' more and more these days. He did not know the word before a certain date and there was a clear event which caused him to "acquire" it into his lexicon. Is there a formal term for this phenomenon? What is it called when someone suddenly starts using a word? English is his first language.

  • Does the use of this word pertain to the same grammatical rules as other normal 'verbs', or is it always 'frozen, severed of other inflections', i.e. always vy+ing?
    – Tsutsu
    Jan 30, 2019 at 13:00
  • Be careful of the frequency illusion (aka "Baader-Meinhoff Effect"). He likely is using the word more often than words that didn't recently and suddenly strike him, but at the same time, he probably isn't using it nearly as often as you think he is, because you're on the alert for it and noticing it, when you're not noticing the frequency of his other word uses.
    – abarnert
    Jan 30, 2019 at 21:43
  • Anyway, I think this is a general psychology question, not specific to linguistics. It's Maslow's Hammer: when you're conscious of having a good hammer, you unconsciously look for nails to hammer with it. And acquiring a new hammer that's unexpectedly impressive is one of the best ways to become conscious of having a good hammer. (Although the comfort zone of having used the hammer a million times successfully can have the same effect even though it's almost the opposite situation.) This works for words, idioms, and constructions just like it does for hammers or software patterns.
    – abarnert
    Jan 30, 2019 at 21:55
  • The neuropsychological explanation is probably related to the Einstellung effect described by Abraham Luchins. (You should be able to find the original paper online in a search.) If you give someone a task 10 times, then give them a task that could be solved much better with a different approach, they'll still usually repeat the same approach, without putting much thought into it. Gina Kolata applied this idea to short-term lexical access, but I don't know of anyone who's applied to to long-term access, and presumably the mechanism is very different.
    – abarnert
    Jan 30, 2019 at 22:02
  • @TKR yes, that’s why I suggested more correct one which is being checked now.
    – Aer
    Feb 3, 2019 at 0:23

1 Answer 1


It’s called ‘reconstructability’ of language (Russian достраиваемость языка, the term of S. Burlak). In a nutshell, nobody remembers every single word of a language. For example, one may be acquainted with the verb ‘vie’ but he or she has never heard any forms of it. If one is a fluent English speaker, then one is pretty well aware of the model of constructing -ing forms, e.g. pick, bite, invent get -ing in contexts like “He is ___ my door.” It doesn’t matter whether one has ever pronounced ‘vying’ or not—all the mentioned factors make one capable of forming ‘vying’: “They are vying in swearing at me.”

This works with almost every other word: if there is an information about how to build -ing (plural, -ed, etc.) forms in one’s mind, one will be able to do it at any moment.

P.S. The previous version of this answer contained the description of nonce words and neologisms as they are really close to the topic. The main difference between the phenomenon in question and neologisms and nonce words is that the latter are used to describe brand new words.

  • @abarnert yep, you’re right, I’ll rewrite the answer to be more correct. Thanks!
    – Aer
    Feb 2, 2019 at 19:07
  • @abarnert I also suggested a new title.
    – Aer
    Feb 2, 2019 at 19:52
  • I think (although it isn't 100% clear) that the OP is asking two separate things, and this only answers one of them. It explains what you call it when someone discovers a new word like this, but doesn't explain why someone who has recently done that might overuse the word, or what you call that.
    – abarnert
    Feb 2, 2019 at 23:07

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