How do novel words form? Do they exist?

Some ideas about word forming here:


But I was particularly interested, is it possible that one discovers something entirely "novel" and needs to name it? Then it would sound weird, why people would accept the word, rather than some other word? E.g. office. Google says it derives like:

Middle English: via Old French from Latin officium ‘performance of a task’ (in medieval Latin also ‘office, divine service’), based on opus ‘work’ + facere ‘do’.

But I perceive that its contemporary use refers to "paperwork or IT offices", rather than e.g. machine shops etc. Why do people accept "office" for "places with paper work", but not for machine shops?

I think Chomsky could argue that "there does not exist any particular logic to it". Yet, accepting this stance could mean that one could debate on the "validity" of any word/concept, yet some of them become fixated and "trusted".

  • 3
    It's not just Chomsky:Wittgenstein said it. Words are (nearly always) arbitrary swymbols. and they get their meaning from how they are used and understood, nowhere else. If somebody starts using a new word, or using a word in a new way, and other people adopt it then it becomes a new word, or a new meaning of a word, in the language. – Colin Fine Jun 19 '20 at 18:20

"Novel word" is a nebulous and kind of Anglo-centric concept. Very many languages have robust morphological processes for word formation where morphemes can be tacked together to form words that haven't yet been uttered by anyone (the word translating to English as "They haven't yet started to realize that he has made us helped them, in my opinion"). If you only want uninflected English novel words, there are various standards for coining names in some industries. For example, in drug nomenclature, -vir is a suffix meaning "antiviral", -ximab is a suffix for chimeric antibodies, -prost- is a stem for prostaglandin analogs. Obviously, -prost- derives from "prostaglandin", which non-obviously derives from the prostate gland.

There are myriad taxa according to which an example can be analyzed, such as "back-formation", "prosodic circumscription", "blend", etc. Sometimes people just make stuff up because of the sound (e.g. "flarn", a food eaten by the Mimbari, who don't actually exist). It is possible that the Babylon V usage is a sanitized version of Eddie Murphy's use in Raw.


In the case of 'office', I believe this would be a case of metonymy, with the meaning of 'office' as in 'a workplace in which paperwork is done' deriving from the earlier meaning (attested as early as 13c) of "a post in government or administration, an employment to which certain duties are attached, secular position of authority or responsibility," (Etymonline).

These positions would likely have entailed a fair amount of paperwork, so its not hard to see how 'office' could acquire its additional meaning. Why it is still used even for IT offices which are not using physical paper necessarily is probably simply due to the fact that these still closely resemble a 'paperwork office' and the understanding of computers as a kind of 'evolution' of paper. A machine shop is generally not considered an office as it is too 'distant' from the established meaning, though given enough time there is no reason another sense of 'office' couldn't arise, or even replace the current one.

So in this case, though this sense of 'office' is novel, the word itself is not. And while the original word is arbitrary in terms of sound etc., the use of 'office' in this new sense is not, as it derives from a clearly related concept.

See https://www.etymonline.com/word/office for etymology

This Wikipedia article lists a number of typologies of semantic change by various authors https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semantic_change

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