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A neologism is a new word, serious or humorous, coined by a writer. It is used in everyday speech as well as in literary texts.

While some neologisms are completely novel, others are taken from already commonly used words and remade. For example, someone might combine a prefix and suffix in a new way rather than creating a new prefix and a new suffix. Sometimes Neologisms are used once and then never used again, such as an uncommonly read poem or story. But, in some cases, writers like William Shakespeare have coined new words that have since made their way into many everyday conversations. Some of these words include “blushing,” “amazement,” and “cold-blooded.”

Neologism pronunciation: nee-oh-low-geh-sum

Neologism definition and examples


Definition of Neologism

A neologism is a new word. It is coined by a writer or by someone speaking in a conversation in order to define an experience, object, or feeling. Sometimes they’re created in order to create humor, and other times, they’re used when no other words will suit the situation. For example, if one finds themselves feeling a way they’ve never felt before and can’t find a word to describe it, they might coin a neologism in order to put words to their emotions. 


Types of Neologisms 

There are several different types of neologisms. They include: 

  • Derived Words: this kind of neologism uses words from other languages, like Latin, and incorporates them into English. For example, the word “villa” means house in Latin. Today, the word appears in “village” and “villager.” 
  • Blend Words: these are humorous words that use multiple words to create a new word. “Brunch,” which is a combination of “breakfast” and “lunch,” is a good example.
  • Transferred Words: those that are taken from another language and significantly altered to fit into English. For example, “weiner” from the German, meaning “hot dog,” that’s used to describe a type of dog. 


Examples of Neologisms in Literature 

Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll 

This famous example of nonce verse is also Carroll’s best-known poem. It tells the story of a man’s quest to fight the Jabberwocky and the various creatures he has to navigate along the way. There are many different examples of neologisms in this poem. They were coined by Carroll for this single literary work and are a perfect example of how this literary device can be used. When reading the following passage, consider how the words sound, work together, and the picture they create:

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogoves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

By using new words, Carroll is also suggesting that the main character’s world is different from everyday life. He lives in a place with strange and wonderful sights that readers have to imagine. 

Read more Lewis Carroll poems. 


Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein 

IN this well-loved science fiction classic, Heinlein describes a young man raised by Martians who returns to live on Earth. He understands the world very differently from his friends and shares with them much of Martian culture. There are a few examples of neologisms in this novel, but the most famous is a single word— “grok.” It can be heard in select conversations today, outside of the realm of the novel. Consider the following quote: 

Isn’t it? Perhaps I don’t grok all its fullness yet. But find me something that really makes you laugh sweetheart… a joke, or anything else- but something that gave you a a real belly laugh, not a smile. Then we’ll see if there isn’t a wrongness wasn’t there.” He thought. “I grok when apes learn to laugh, they’ll be people.” 

“Grok” is used twice in this short passage. It refers to one’s ability to understand/comprehend a situation and all its nuances.


Ulysses by James Joyce 

In this famous novel, Joyce uses numerous examples of neologisms. It is famed for its complex passages that, on a first reading, are often unintelligible. Consider the following lines: 

Mrkgnao! the cat said loudly. She blinked up out of her avid shameclosing eyes, mewing plaintively and long, showing him her milkwhite teeth. 

Here, Joyce uses words like “shameclosing” and “milkwhite,” not to mention “Mrkgnao” to define his narrative. The invented compound words are easy to envision, while the nonce word “Mrkgnao” is a good example of onomatopoeia. It is meant to mimic the sound of a cat’s meow. Joyce also created other words in this novel, like “ringroundabout” and “poppysmic.” 

Explore James Joyce’s poetry. 


The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare 

“The Merchant of Venice” is a well-known play by William Shakespeare that uses a famous example of neologism. Portia speaks the following lines: 

How all the other passions fleet to air,

As doubtful thoughts, and rash-embraced despair,

And shuddering fear, and green-eyed jealousy!

She uses the phrase “green-eyed jealousy,” a wonderfully descriptive neologism that makes the emotion quite easy to imagine. Today, the color green and the phrase “green-eyed” are usually associated with jealousy. 

Explore William Shakespeare’s poetry. 


Why Do Writers Create Neologisms? 

Writers create neologisms in order to fill a gap in their narrative, create humor, or define a situation in a new way. Some neologisms are unnecessary and can distract from the overall effect of a story or poem. But, others, such as those created in nonce verse and in the works of William Shakespeare, are quite interesting. The examples from ‘Jabberwocky’ by Lewis Carroll are some of the best. Depending on the writer’s intent, these words can be strange, confusing, funny, and exciting. If done correctly, they should enter into the public’s vocabulary and even become a part of everyday conversations. “Bedazzled” from “The Taming of the Shrew” is a good example of the latter. 


Related Literary Terms 

  • Abstract Diction: occurs when the poet wants to express something ephemeral or ungraspable.
  • Allusion: an indirect reference to, including but not limited to, an idea, event, or person. It is used within both prose and verse writing.
  • Audience: the group for which an artist or writer makes a piece of art or writes.
  • Figurative Language: figures of speech that are used in order to improve a piece of writing.
  • Imagery: the elements of a poem that engage a reader’s senses. These are the important sights, sounds, feelings, and smells.


Other Resources 

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